Canada’s Tar Sands

Alberta in Canada is home to what is now considered one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon reserves – the Athabasca Tar Sands.

At room temperature the oil saturated soils and sands are semi-solid with a consistency of cold molasses, meaning they cannot flow freely, and heated steam or solvents are required to extract usable hydrocarbons. This makes oil from tar sands sources far more energy intensive to obtain, and potentially far more polluting.

Covering a huge area, to date only a small fraction of the total tar sands reserves have been exploited.

Even so, significant environmental impacts have already occurred, including pollution of sensitive ecosystems and water resources, and elevated levels of local air pollution, with the resulting fuel oil producing between 5 and 15% more carbon over it’s production-use lifetime than most conventional crude oils.

Some campaigners have labelled the tar sands project as The Biggest Environmental Crime in History.

Though championed by the Canadian Government, the tar sands extraction project is strongly criticised by numerous organisations and individuals, including Greenpeace, The Sierra Club, Naomi Klein and the WWF, as well as many local groups set-up in opposition, such as Dirty Oil Sands and Oil Sands Truth.

In the talk below conservation photographer and anti-tar sands campaigner Garth Lenz is moved to the point of tears describing local families having to feed potentially carcinogenic food to their children.

Similar articles – The Most Polluted Place on Earth ?, Mountaintop Removal, Gas Flares in the Niger Delta

Photo from Wikicommons

Gas Flares in the Niger Delta

The image shows north Africa at night from space. Most of Africa is dark, compared to lights of southern Europe. Below the Sahara only the Niger Delta is illuminated, as a result of the flaring of ‘waste’ gas, found alongside the oil in Nigeria’s oilfields, but that the oil companies have not sought to exploit, and simply burn.

The flaring of waste gas in Nigeria releases toxic chemicals into the local environment and wastes approximately the same amount of energy every year as 25% of the UK’s entire natural gas consumption – emitting carbon dioxide equivalent to 18 million cars.

Oil exploration of the Niger Delta has caused many significant environmental problems, but the oil money has been of limited benefit to the poor communities in the Delta. A powerful series of photos showing many of the issues of the Delta was recently published on The Atlantic website,

Photo NASA 2003