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Disaster Capitalism at the Local Level

Tar Sands to Toledo

by TRUDY BOND

"I am extremely pleased with the announcement that BP has given the green light for the Sunrise project in Alberta."

– Ohio Democratic Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur

Democratic leaders in Congress are as likely to cavalierly embrace the destruction of the environment, including global warming, as readily as any of the basest congressional members of the other party. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, who represents Northern Ohio’s Ninth Congressional District, is celebrating a deal that will allow BP – yes, BP, the epitome of environmental tragedies – to retrofit their Toledo refinery so the 91-year-old facility can process heavy oil extracted from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, never bothering to tell the public of the details of her deal.

In her press release, Kaptur only said she had been in close contact with both the company (BP) and the Canadian government in recent months, as the project had been stalled, but is now "moving ahead full throttle, and that’s good news for us." Clearly, Ms. Kaptur’s referral to "us" doesn’t include those devastated by BP’s greed-compelled negligence in the deaths of people, wildlife, sea life and gulf coastal regions or the devastating effects that BP’s continued greed will have on the environment and people in Alberta.

Ms. Kaptur is milk-toast and non-controversial to most. Her press releases must be read by only her constituents, if at all. That is the only explanation as to how she can get away with celebrating a pact with the devil, a pact that will bring jobs to recession-torn Toledo, one area in the country that has had no recovery since the recession.

According to a report released by the Brookings Institute, Toledo’s economy "fell off a cliff and never really managed to climb back. This has been by far the worst recession, and 11 quarters from the start, there’s essentially been no recovery. Our basic indicators for Toledo are much, much worse than most other areas."

Such a cataclysm for the folks of Toledo, a result of Wall Street’s greed, makes Kaptur’s unrealistic public comments lucrative, yet even more destructive. Kaptur told her public, "Continentally, the Alberta sands deposits hold vast potential to yield new reserves as large as two Gulfs of Mexico. This is likely to mean substantial jobs and economic development in our community for many years to come." But BP has said, "The local project is expected to generate hundreds of construction jobs but not add many jobs at the plant."

Construction is time-limited, no matter the amount of "oil" in the Alberta sands. Promising jobs while allowing BP to retrofit their refinery is only a stop-gap measure, like the junk-shot BP used to try to stop the oil flowing into the Gulf.

NIMBY

At the time BP’s first attack on our planet, Kaptur was politically-correct in criticizing BP’s oil spill in the Gulf, though she had voted in support of off-shore drilling. Yet she felt compelled to add a spin to highlight her protest of drilling in the Great Lakes: "To prevent a similar ecological disaster in our region, I remain a staunch supporter of the permanent ban on oil and gas exploration on the Great Lakes as crucial for protecting the sensitive environmental nature of our ecosystem." No explanation as to why "our" ecosystem is more valuable than that of the Gulf of Mexico or the Alberta boreal forests where the tar sands are located.

Would Kaptur be promoting BP’s continued rape of the environment if the tar sands were in Toledo (the project would still bring jobs) and the refinery in Alberta? Naomi Klein best describes some of what is involved in harvesting oil from the tar sands of Alberta in a presentation at the TEDWomen conference:

The tar sands live under one of the last magnificent old-growth boreal forests. But the oil underneath those trees is not liquid, you can’t just drill a hole and pump it out. Tar sands oil is solid, mixed into the soil.

So to get at it, you first have to get rid of the trees. Then you rip off the top soil and dig up the stuff—a process so disruptive it requires enlisting the biggest dump trucks ever built. It also requires a huge amount of water, which is then pumped into massive toxic tailings ponds. That’s very bad news for local indigenous people who are facing unusually high cancer rates.

Tar sands extraction is growing so fast that the project can already be seen from space and could grow to an area roughly the size of England. This is not oil drilling. It is not even mining. It is terrestrial skinning. Vast vivid landscapes are being gutted, left monochromatic grey.

I should confess that as far as I’m concerned, this would be an abomination if it emitted not one particle of carbon. But the truth is that on average, turning that gunk into crude oil produces about 3 times more greenhouse gas pollution per barrel than it does to produce conventional crude oil in Canada.

How else to describe this but as a form of mass insanity?

Mass insanity it is. In the same news article, BP spoke of the tar sands as if they were a wholly-owned sector of BP: ". . . this sanction is a significant step in progressing BP Canada’s upstream oil sands portfolio," said Stephen Willis, BP’s vice president of oil sands.

From the shock of the recession, my congressional representative cheers on the destruction of the environment by an evil corporate entity, disaster capitalism at its most destructive. Mass insanity it is, even for the congresswoman.

Ms. Kaptur’s office was contacted repeatedly for a comment on her position on environmental issues, and refused to respond.

Dr. TRUDY BOND is a constituent in Kaptur’s district, and can be reached at drtrudybond@gmail.com.