Posts Tagged ‘Alberta tar sands’

Parc national Wood Buffalo

Wood Buffalo Park
Photo Courtesy of Parc National

In the Northeast corner of Alberta, in the great circumpolar boreal forest of muskeg, lakes, spruce and willow, sprawls Wood Buffalo National Park, 17,300 square miles of it, five Yellowstones in area, the 13th largest protected area on earth, a World Heritage Site.

The Park is the breeding ground of the last several hundred whooping cranes, home to the largest remaining free roaming herds of the threatened Wood Bison (a sub-species, larger than the plains bison), and caribou, moose, brown bear, wolf, lynx, beaver—all the boreal animals. The park includes the immense, ecologically rich inland delta of the  Athabascan and Peace Rivers.

Wood Buffalo Park Lake

Wood Buffalo Park Lake
Photo courtesy of Parc National

Wood Buffalo is the call of the wild country. Here is the deep silence, the wide sky, the northern lights, the fiery, silvery night sky. Around nighttime campfires—maybe the call of an owl, the howl of a wolf, the haunting loon laugher, then all’s quiet. Starlight shines. Sleep comes easily.

Tar Sands Map

Tar Sands Map

Only a few miles south of Wood Buffalo begins a realm of utter contrast. This is the domain of the Athabascan Oil Sands, aka Tar Sands Central, one of the great developing industrial regions of Canada, in total about the size of Florida. The Oil Sands Developer Group assures us that the maximum surface area of oil sands mining will obliterate an area equal to only one ninth the area of Wood Buffalo National Park. That equals a mere 900 square miles.

From the air, the gouges on the land suggest a devastated battlefield. The earth’s skin has been violated, beyond repair.  Industry and the Province of Alberta promise ecological restoration of the used up landscape. The very iidea is preposterous. It is difficult enough to restore a few acres of coastal wetland, much less thousands of acres of virgin forest, lake and muskeg in the far north.

And the great Athabascan River drainage and delta is threatened, no matter the assurances of industry and the province.

Importantly, Canada’s First Nations, most obviously impacted by all this industrialization, are alert and organized to publicize these dangers. (see www.raventrust.com).P1010811

Tar sands mining is energy intensive. From tar to oil, from oil to pipeline, from pipeline to refinery—tar sands oil is extravagant in its bequeathing of carbon dioxide. The immense tar sands reserves, if mined, processed and used, will effectively spell the end of the fragile hope of averting the worst of climate change impacts over the next 50 years.

In this sense, the ecological damage of mining pales in significance to its impact on global warming.

Protests against the pipeline have crystalized into history’s largest, best coordinated,  most crucial and broadly based environmental campaign ever, led largely by new groups like www.350.org.  64433_610876308940769_581445259_n

As fate would have it, the key to full exploitation of the tar sands depends on its transportation via pipeline to refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast. The last step, approval for trans-border pipeline construction, is in the hands of President Obama. He is the decider, as a former president might say. The buck stops at his doorstep, as another president once said.

This single act of approving or disapproving this pipeline is arguably the most historically significant decision Obama will face in his eight year presidency.

Denying the pipeline will immediately call into question the economic viability of full scale tar sands exploitation. The worldwide grassroots  movement toward sustainable energy will gain a new foothold.(Cheap oil is not consistent with green energy!)  A presidential decision to deny the pipeline—despite immense pressure from Canada, industry and the Republican Party might—will show the U.S. at last to be a full partner in international efforts to avert climate disaster.

The administration’s record—the “all of the above” energy policy, the approval of drilling on public lands and waters, the letdown at Copenhagen—is not encouraging.

Yet…we can hope.   SRE

Tar Sands Development

Tar Sands Development

PS   Read Naomi Klein’s eye opening story on systems analysis, climate change and  chances for averting catastrophic  ecological and economic  “melt-down”.   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/10/29-4

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In 2009, the Port of Coos Bay and developers began touting an import terminal for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), the Jordan Cove Project. Overseas LNG tankers would come into the terminal on North Spit and offload gas into pipelines to be sent on to points east (and more probably south to California, a state who has adamantly refused to build LNG terminals, presumably because they understand the multiple hazards.)LNG pipelines

Environmental and other local groups warned that the direction could be reversed, i.e. what was proposed to be an import terminal could, in fact, become an export terminal, carrying natural gas from points east to Coos Bay and on to Asian destinations. Oh no, the developers insisted. Well, guess what. Last fall the flow reversed. Now the developers want to ship LNG out of the terminal. Gosh, are we surprised?

Port of Coos Bay courtesy of the Port

Meanwhile, over at “Project Mainstay,” the Port is trying to figure out how to export 6 to 10 million tons of coal annually as well. That would be shipped in by rail from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and sent on to Asian destinations to be burned in power plants. When asked for documents pertaining the plan, the Port balked, and put on a price tag of $20,000 to view, what seem to be, public documents.(The Port is a public agency, right?) The Coos County DA found the charges “excessive”, citing the $17,000 lawyer’s fees in particular. Yesterday the Port appealed.

Port of Coos Bay courtesy of the Port

Then there’s the dredging that’s going to be needed to bring in those giant tankers, regardless of whether they’re picking up LNG or coal. In January, after the State Lands Office OKed a dredging permit (the largest estuarine permit in Oregon’s history) a coalition of local and environmental groups appealed, citing destruction of  habitat essential for salmon, oyster and other commercial fishing and recreational uses.

I’m confused.

On the one hand, we’re trying to ship tar sands-derived (an extremely environmentally damaging and energy intensive process) petroleum from Alberta via the Keystone XL pipeline (total project costs estimated at $150+ billion) into the US. On the other hand,  we’re trying to ship out US-produced natural gas (most derived from fracking, a process with extensive environmental costs) and coal (we all know what that’s like to mine, ship and store). All this while the US is supposed to be striving for “energy independence.”

Makes no sense to me… unless I follow the money.

Canadian Tar Sands courtesy of National Geographic

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