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Friday, March 8, 2013

Oil Sands: Canada rides a toxic monster that kills all in its path

Although the federal government has implemented a monitoring system, only after the research forced their hand, the plight of the Dene people downstream from the "tar sands" project, along with the blight on fish, water, land and air, from the toxins produced by steam extraction of the oil from the bitumen embedded in the sand, is still far higher than anyone had predicted and reaches a wider circumference than known previously. It  is even problematic, according to this documentary, that restoration of the land to its original state, following the termination of the "tar sands" project, could be impossible because of the excessive cost involved.
No one can watch this documentary, regardless of the position they had prior to viewing, without worrying about the human and environmental costs of this project, on which the Canadian economy has gloated for the last few years, given the bloated $20+ billions generated from the project.
So we are, once again, watching the energy companies line their pockets, although the price of Alberta crude is not nearly as high as expected by forecasters when the project began, while we literally kill native people, fish and wildlife as "collateral damage" in our insatiable gluttony and dependence on fossil fuels.
There is a common theme in this story: the tobacco companies pleaded for decades that their product did not cause cancer, only to be proven to have been deceiving their customers. Now the oil companies are pleading that the extraction of their product has no deleterious impact on either human life nor the environment, only to be proven wrong by the more rigorous science than would be normal from a university. The participating scientists took extra steps to ensure the reliability of their findings because they knew their findings would be pivotal in the future debates, including court cases, over the tar sands project.
Polite, respectful and obedient Canadian people, exemplified by the Dene at their public meeting where the Schindler evidence was presented for the first time, are still clinging to a shred of ambivalence, in the words of one elderly woman, "I am a little divided, because I have family who work there and they need the jobs, they have no other choices, but I also do not want to bury them because they work there."
Like all self-respecting nations, Canada must get serious about alternative energy pursuit. We must not put all our economic eggs in the basket of the oil sands, as the current federal government seems to be doing, so tightly bound as it is to the oil companies and their profits, their culture and their propaganda.

Tipping Point: Age of the Oil Sands
From CBC The Nature of the Things with David Suzuki, March 7, 2013
Update: In January 2013, a team of scientists, led by Dr. John Smol from Queen's University, released a study revealing evidence strongly suggesting the Alberta oil sands have been sending toxins into the air and water for decades. They confirmed the groundbreaking research of Dr. David Schindler, documented in "Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands" which originally aired on The Nature of Things in January 2011. The new study shows toxins around the Athabasca oil sands have increased in areas at least 90km away. Levels of industry-related chemicals have nearly doubled since the 1960s, and have risen sharply since the 1990s.

"Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands" is a two-hour visual tour de force, taking viewers inside the David and Goliath struggle playing out within one of the most compelling environmental issues of our time.

In an oil-scarce world, we know there are sacrifices to be made in the pursuit of energy. What no one expected was that a tiny Native community downriver from Canada’s oil sands would reach out to the world, and be heard.
Directed by Edmonton filmmakers Tom Radford and Niobe Thompson of Clearwater Documentary, and hosted by Dr. David Suzuki, this special presentation of The Nature of Things goes behind the headlines to reveal how a groundbreaking new research project triggered a tipping point for the Alberta oil sands.
For years, residents of the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan, down the Athabasca River from the oil sands, have been plagued by rare forms of cancer. They were concerned that toxins from oil sands production might be to blame. Industry and government, meanwhile, claimed production in the oil sands contributed zero pollution to the Athabasca River.

But in 2010, new and independent research measured pollution in waters flowing through the oil sands and discovered higher-than-expected levels of toxins, including arsenic, lead and mercury, coming from industrial plants. Leading the research was renowned freshwater scientist Dr. David Schindler (read more about David Schindler). At the same time, the leaders of tiny Fort Chipewyan took their battle to the boardrooms of global oil companies, demanding change.
Leading the campaign was Dene Elder Francois Paulette, whose battles with Ottawa a generation ago launched the era of modern land claims. From New York, to Copenhagen, to Oslo, to the oil sands themselves, our camera followed Paulette on his relentless search for allies. When he finally enlisted the support of Avatar director James Cameron, Paulette created a storm of controversy for the Alberta’s oil sands industry.
By the end of 2010, Schindler’s alarming discovery of toxic pollution and the media attention Cameron’s visit had raised was putting federal and provincial environmental policy under serious pressure. Separate reports by Canada’s Auditor General, the Royal Society of Canada, and a panel of experts appointed by then Environment Minister Jim Prentice revealed a decade of incompetent pollution monitoring, paid for by industry, in Alberta’s oil sands.
The documentary’s climax shows how Professor Schindler's research findings, and the determination of Fort Chipewyan residents, led to change. In December 2010, the special scientific review by the high-level federal panel declared environmental monitoring standards in the oil sands seriously flawed. In a dramatic reversal of their previous position, both the Federal and Alberta governments announced steps to improve their pollution monitoring. The age of innocence for the oil sands is over.

"Tipping Point" was directed by Niobe Thompson and Tom Radford for Clearwater Documentary in association with CBC-TV. A theatrical version of the documentary, narrated by Sigourney Weaver, is now playing in film festivals around the world.

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