Environmentalists are, not surprisingly, aghast at the magnitude of this fast growing and earth-despoiling industry. “Tar sands oil is to conventional oil what crack cocaine is to ordinary cocaine powder,” says Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada. “It’s more harm to global climate through increased greenhouse gas emissions, more destruction of boreal forests, more toxic tailings and more air and water pollution.” The club estimates that the expected doubling of tar sands production by 2010 will produce 70 megatons of global warming gasses annually—12 percent of Canada’s Kyoto target for that year...
Concerns over environmental damage from mining and processing the material are varied and on the rise. Huge amounts of natural gas and water are used to extract and upgrade the crude, and greenhouse gas emissions are high. In mining operations, environmentalists worry that the land—which companies are required to restore—may never come back to a truly “natural state.” The process also turns large amounts of water into a toxic mixture, forcing companies to create large lake-like impoundments.
“We’re dealing with a form of oil extraction in which the intensity of environmental impacts is at an order of magnitude greater than any other form of oil extraction we have seen on the planet,” says Dan Woynillowicz, an environmental policy analyst with the Alberta-based Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development. “There’s a fever among energy executives and senior bureaucrats and politicians.”
Big oil has found a partner in the Harper Conservatives. Al Gore took some criticism for saying the Canadian election was partially about the tar sands, but if you look at what Harper says, it mirrors the oil companies line:
While John Bennett, senior policy adviser for Sierra Club of Canada, isn't certain of how much oil companies and their executives donate to the Conservatives, he's noticed their language on Kyoto is similar.
"They've talked about the need for a made-in-Canada plan, which is exactly the terminology Stephen Harper used," Bennett said. "They've talked about targets for Kyoto being unreachable -- that's similar."
If Emerson's defection today does give Layton some more leverage in the House of Commons, I hope he uses it with regard to Kyoto. Prior to the election, Layton drew a line in the sand on health care and the environment, saying in those areas no compromise would be accepted. We're counting on you Jack, because money and greed have a clear mandate and the general interests don't register.