This first appeared on the Radical University website, March 11, 2013
By Laura Clayson
“Ecocide”: “heedless or deliberate destruction of the natural environment, as by pollutants or an act of war.” ‘Unconventional Fossil Fuels’ certainly fit this framework well. As Dan Sweeney explains them, these are “primary resources which are not being intensively exploited at present.”
The tar sands of Canada are a primary example of this “act of war” on nature. Greenpeace summarises them as huge deposits of bitumen, a tar-like substance that’s turned into oil through complex and energy-intensive processes that cause widespread environmental damage. Dubbed the “Saudi Arabia” of the West, the aim of them is evident: extract as much oil as possible, whatever the price. And the prices are catastrophic. Indigenous communities have had their whole way of life completely eradicated, not only from the removal of land upon which they live but also the health issues that have manifested themselves in the “unusually high levels of rare cancers and autoimmune diseases” in the area. However, the increase of such diseases doesn’t appear to bother Enbridge Inc. the company which wishes to expand the trade through building a tar sands pipeline spanning 1,170 kilometres from Hardisty, Alberta to Kitimat, in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. Understandably there is much protest against this ‘unconventional’ source already, so why is it such a concern?
Environmental anxieties are top of the agenda here. Enbridge Inc.’s own pipelines have spilled an average of more than once a week, and yet the pipeline they propose would cross over 1,000 rivers and streams and the Rocky Mountains on the way to B.C.’s pristine coastline. It would bring more than 200 crude oil tankers through some of the world’s most treacherous waters each year. Such potential for a spill is even more concerning when you consider that tar sands bitumen is more ecologically destructive than any other oil as it is harder to clean up when there is a spill, rendering it expensive both economically and environmentally. Indeed, it was this same company who were responsible for the massive tar sands spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2008, “when authorities openly worried that the Michigan mess would ooze tar sands oil into the Great Lakes.” Whilst they determine that clean-up is possible, as is evaporation of the oil, it must be highlighted that currently oil spill cleaning technology isn’t particularly efficient- for example, only 15% of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico was cleaned up! It might not be in the media anymore, but that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t still completely destroying eco-systems. Additionally, the by-product of tar sands is petro coke. This is used as substitute for coal and has four times the carbon effluence, offering strong support for concerns of Terry Macalister in the Guardian who postulates that “the tar sands business… risks tipping the world into an irreversible process of global warming.”
However, Marin Katusa, an accomplished investment analyst, pioneering the pipeline has suggested, these tar sands are much more ethical than what he terms the “bloody oil” currently being sourced from places such as Niger under Russian investment. Supposedly the human rights abuses in countries such as this provide a strong reason why sourcing from Canada is much more in line with humanitarian concerns. However, Katusa is more than slightly misguided here, as Rex Weyler, co-founder of Greenpeace, has refuted. Based upon “absolute academic evidence” and the association of the tar sands industry with “increasing cancer” in the area it is certainly disconcerting how an ethical argument could be seen to hold any sustenance in the argument over whether or not the expansion of the industry is a good thing.
The tar sands pipeline proposal threatens to allow a 30 per cent expansion in tar sands development. But don’t panic! For those of you who were worried, there is of course an economic argument. According to Katusa though, the lovely American government will be getting a discount for the Canadian oil, so this is very significant and will also mean billions of dollars for Canadians as it is energy self-sufficient, right? Not so sure about that one either. As Rex highlights what is really needed to help the Canadian government actually make money off of this is to clean it up and cap it. As it will be shipped to China and the US for refinery this would be boosting their economies a lot more than Canada’s. It needs localising! Whilst it would certainly stimulate jobs at first; in the pipeline’s maintenance, regulation and inspection one spill would wipe out all this gain.
Thus, it seems evident, from the threat to marine life to the fact that bitumen is “is the dirtiest oil in the world,” that tar sands as a potential replacement for crude oil is not viable: they produce more carbon, more carcinogenic toxins and have no net benefit to Canadians.
Some of you may be wondering what relevance this has to you, in Europe. A lot! In this globalised world based on imports and exports, it affects the UK very much. This year, the EU member states will be voting upon the ‘EU Fuel Quality Directive.’ Within this it states that: “a requirement on fuel suppliers [is] to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of energy supplied for road transport.” Should tar sands oil be adopted this would certainly put our country in direct violation of this article and so hopefully, as organisations such as ‘People and Planet’ hope, they will vote ‘Yes’ for this and ‘No’ to letting tar sands into European fuel tanks.
But how far can we trust the UK’s “most green government yet”? Not much if we refer to Osborne’s recent ‘Dash for Gas’ which saw him reveal plans to build up to 40 new power plants and give a clear nod towards potential shale gas, through the controversial means of Fracking. All this stands in stark contrast to the government’s supposed commitment to meet carbon emissions reduction targets, as well as to the advice of the ‘Committee on Climate Change’ which it set up. Despite their main argument of economic security being inherently flawed (importing oil from a country deemed more politically stable than the Middle East) the environmental implications of this new investment surely outweighs the capital saved.
Edward Begley Jr. encapsulates the current situation very well: “I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man, we call it ‘vandalism’, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it ‘progress.’” Indeed, as the search for resources to further fuel our over-consumptive culture starts to lead us down such ‘unconventional’ routes in order to sustain our ‘right’ to capitalise on all the wealth the planet has to offer, we need to stop and look at where this is taking us. Once nature has ‘progressed’ as far as we can possibly force it to, where will we go next?
To see what is at risk please watch:https://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=i0BCdinqMvQ&feature=endscreen