The War on Canada’s Tar Sands

With the discovery of Canada’s tar sand in 1848 it began an era marked by economic opportunity and fervent protests.


By Cobin Szymanski | CANADA

One of the thousands of once pristine lakes reflects the smog ridden sky in northern Canada. The sun is just peeking over the horizon beginning a new day for all but the inhabitants of northern Canada’s tar sands. There are no new days here, only the monotony of the gray skies and barren landscape. It has not always exuded such a desolate sentiment on all who witness the horrors of the place. It was a pristine boreal forest teeming with moose, wolf and a plethora of other magnificent beings. The First Nations long coincided in peace with all living things that wandered the forest, times have changed. Now, only the odious aroma of the black liquid that has enveloped the region, the Tar Sands.

The tar found in the Athabasca deposit in the province of Alberta has not always been used for such avarice exploits. It has been used by the indigenous tribes of Northern Canada for millennia to fortify their canoes against water. It formed millions of years ago when the tectonic activity in Canada submerged a tectonic plate under another burying deposits of organic material. It rested there for many millennia subjected to intense heat and pressure eventually transforming it into a tar-like substance. Now the Bitumen, colloquially known as tar, is being extracted from the earth in astounding proportions. It was discovered in 1848 but the economic potential was only encountered in 1908 by Charles Mair, he stated,”This region is stored with a substance of great economic value.” The process of extraction did not become feasible until Carl Clark discovered a method for separating the oil from the sand. The economic importance of such a discovery was not realized until many years later, then the oil companies came.

The tar sands are now a large economic commodity monitored by the Canadian government. In spite of the environmental impact, the tar sands contribute to the local and regional economy in astonishing proportions. In fact, four trillion dollars will be contributed to the Canadian economy in the coming 20 years. They also employ 151,000 people in the mines alone. They constitute approximately forty percent of Canada’s oil production and they rank third in global oil reserves. The impact is not just global or in economic value, many of the unemployed people living in Canada have found jobs and lived ostensibly quite prosperously. The tar sands have been a large economic stimulant and will continue to be for it is projected that they will add over 70,000 jobs by 2038. Over 3000 Canadian small businesses also help to supply the beast of the tar sands. In all of the prosperity, it is hard to imagine there is something sister lurking in the background, however, that is just what there is.

The environmental impacts of the tar sands have little been spoken about and as a result, the incessant production of sludge and CO2 has continued. The tar sand extraction is not victimless and requires massive holding ponds for the sludge that is produced when water is shot through the sand and extracts the oil. The extraction also requires the clearing of the forest, the Canadian government has already leased out 99 percent of the mineable land to large and unsentimental oil companies, this land will become devoid of all trees. There are also green house gas emissions that are synonymous with the tar sands. With every barrel of oil produced 62 to 164 kilograms of carbon-dioxide are produced. This is not mentioning the polluted water that is also a byproduct, this water seeps into the Athabasca river and kills all plant and animal life.  The environmental impacts of tar sand mining have many implications and thus, have been protested zealously.

The tar sands do not on only have economic and environmental impacts they have humanitarian impacts as well. With the large output of polluted water flowing into the Athabasca river, the wildlife and water in the river are affected. The first nations living in or around the tar sands are impacted extensively, the fish that they eat and the water that they drink is contaminated with carcinogenic pollutants. They have no other option and consequently, they must eat the fish and drink the water despite warnings of cancer. The deplorable circumstances that the oil companies are forcing the first nations to endure have incited protests across North America.  The pipelines that have been proposed to travel from Alberta Canada to the gulf coast have also inspired protests about native American rights and the instances of oil spills. This year president trump approved the keystone Xl pipeline that would travel from the oil fields and across America. Protests weres parked across the country signifying the discontent arising with the tar sands and large oil companies.

In conclusion, the economic and environmental impacts of the tar sand of Canada have been a contentious issue, the fervent protests will only continue to envelop the nations. There is a balance between environmental destruction and preservation, we need to find that balance in order to ensure the well being of the first nations and native American tribes living in the tars sands or in the path of the pipelines. However, most importantly we need to strike that balance in order to save ourselves.

“Economic Contribution.” Canada’s Oil Sands. Web. 21 Aug. 2017.

“Environmental Impacts of Oil Sands Development in Alberta.” Resilience. 21 Sept. 2009. Web. 21 Aug. 2017.

Meyer, Robinson. “What’s Next for the Keystone XL Pipeline.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 27 Mar. 2017. Web. 21 Aug. 2017.

“Oil Sands History and Milestones.” Canada’s Oil Sands. Web. 21 Aug. 2017.

“Stop Tar Sands Expansion.” Greenpeace Canada. Web. 21 Aug. 2017.

  1. Mr. Cobin Szymanski here is the best journalist in the entire world!! ✏


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