FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Tar-ma is a Bitch!: the Real Tragedy of Fort McMurray

by

In case you have been on a meditation retreat the past few days, here’s the story: the wildfire at Fort McMurray, Alberta. At 328 square miles in size, this wildfire has forced all of its 88,000 residents to flee and destroyed, at the time of writing this, over 1,600 buildings. So far there are no direct fatalities as a result of this fire, but communities have been destroyed, homes and cultural heritage lost, not to mention that the wilderness and animals inhabiting this vast area are ravaged.

Surrounding Fort McMurray are large deposits of bitumen (extremely heavy crude oil) in an area called the Athabasca oil sands, the third largest reserves of oil in the world (only after reserves in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela). For years, activists have fought the Canadian government which had reduced environmental and health risks posed by these large-scale mining operations (ie. open-pit mining and in situ extraction), damaging the environment and human life. Even a well-known report by Environmental Defence, a health organisation, reported in 2008 that the Tar Sands generate enormous amounts of toxic chemicals that affect the land, animals, and humans alike:

Of primary concern are naphthenic acids, mercury, arsenic salts and PAHs. The levels found by independent scientists already present a toxic hazard to humans and wildlife. But even more disturbing is the fact that they are rising. Scientists have learned a great deal about PAHs in recent years, particularly as a result of research following the Exxon Valdez oil spill. We now know that waterborne PAHs are toxic to embryonic fish at concentrations as low as 1 part per billion (ppb).   Looking at sediment concentrations, even the RAMP has found mean concentrations of PAHs in sediments to be rising from 1 ppm (part per million) in 2001 to 1.4 by 2005 as far downstream from the Tar Sands as the Athabasca delta. (6)

The myth then perpetuated by the government was that the Tar Sands could undergo “reclamation” whereby the land is dug up after the oil is extracted and then to be returned to its original state. No mention was made of the strip mines and tailings ponds that are, in reality, left behind.   No mention is made of the damage caused in detail by these tar sands which is a constant toxic pollution which functions as a very slow-motion oil spill affecting the region’s rivers and ground water (experts estimate that this could be far worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill); those people living downstream (notably First Nations) have already chronicled the deformations of pickerel and walleye in Lake Athabasca, game animals and fish have being found covered with tumours and mutations and since the early naughts, there has been observed in humans cancers and autoimmune diseases in Fort Chipewyan.

Last fall it was revealed that the previous government under Stephen Harper had spent over $30m on tar sands advocacy over two years (ie. public relations, advertising, and domestic and international “outreach activities”) in order to advocate for oil exports. Most damning in this advocacy was that some of the outreach actions involved lobbying against a European environmental measure called the EU Fuel Quality Directive that took aim at tar sands exports, delaying its passing. Yet, the strict EU laws which prevent the US from exporting its own crude were circumvented when the US began re-exporting Canadian crude to EU nations since April 2014 (ie. Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain). And MathPro estimates that of Europe’s 96 refineries, 71 can refine heavy crude, indicating the EU’s impending change in fuel imports with the National Resources Defence Council predicting that bewteen 5.3% and 6.7% of Europe’s crude oil would emanate from North America by 2020 despite the protests of many environmental advocacy groups throughout the EU, such as UK Tar Sands Newtwork.

While media sources are transmitting the brutal events of Fort McMurray and its inhabitants, there has been virtually no coverage about the fact that many of the people whose lives and communities are destroyed by this fire, have sadly had a hand in contributing to this fire. Just as the rising temperatures this past winter have been the highest in modern history with the month of February breaking an all time record, one cannot separate an enterprise which directly contributes to the increase of the earth’s temperature from its tragic—even if unwanted—effects. The unseasonably hot Spring combined with the dry conditions of the boreal forest has left this part of Alberta a virtual tinder box. Approximately 14,000 of McMurray’s residents commute daily to work at the oil sands plants. These tar sands are natural bitumen deposits which produce 23% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oils, due to their energy and water-intensive production process.

And this is the greatest, inescapable tragedy for those workers who struggle for a livelihood in this part of the province where the largest industry in town is the very one which indirectly destroyed their town.

The links between the tar sands and climate change have been confirmed and reconfirmed by science. Even the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline commissioned in 2010 which was heavily protested on both sides of the border, is now in its third and final phase of operation with very few questioning the devastating effects that these tar sands have and will effect upon the earth.   The tyranny of fossil fuel is still with us and if anyone knows it now, it is the inhabitants of Fort McMurray.

Julian Vigo is a scholar, film-maker and human rights consultant. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (2015). She can be reached at: julian.vigo@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 28, 2017
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
A Paradigm Shift in the Middle East: Iran as the Solution, Not the Problem
Paul Street
Big Brother Capitalism Strikes Back
Stephen Cooper
Trump’s Pusillanimous Immigration Policy Imperils the Public and the Police
Vincent Emanuele
The Madness of U.S. Empire
Michael Sainato and Chelsea Skojec
We Need the Endangered Species Act Now More Than Ever
David Underhill
Oops, They Did It Again: Crowd Bowls Over Rep in Beery Alley
John Eskow
Jimmy Kimmel is a Total Dick and Other Reflections on the Oscars
Steve Horn
Trump’s Top Energy Aide, Mike Catanzaro Peddled Climate Change Denial
Jack Random
The Trump Diaries: Week Five
Robert Fisk
The Education of Marine Le Pen
Pauline Murphy
Felicia Browne’s Fight Against Fascism
Mary Lynn Cramer
Fearing the Trump Impeachment
Mel Gurtov
While Our Attention is Elsewhere, Climate Change Worsens
Dan Bacher
Extinction 2017: California Edition
Abel Cohen
The Trojan President: America Never Saw It Coming
February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail