Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

Discovering Global Environmental Interconnections

Europeans stopped Canada’s Slaughter of Baby Seals – Can They Stop Canada’s Tar Sands?

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On July 17th Berliners and other Europeans will take to the streets to stop the worst environmental disaster on the planet:

Canada’s “Dirty Oil” Tar Sands

[UPDATE: See pix and story on the Stop Tar Sands "demo-fest"]

“The tar sands of Canada constitute one of our planet’s greatest threats” – James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies

“Extracting oil from Alberta’s tar sands jeopardizes the survival of our species” — Al Gore

Warning of the global environmental disaster represented by Canada’s production of oil from its western tar sands, protesters will gather in front of the Canadian Embassies in Berlin, London and Copenhagen on Saturday, July 17 to mark International Stop the Tar Sands Day.

[Download poster international tar sands day A3]

The goal of International Stop the Tar Sands Day is to raise awareness in Europe that oil made from Canada’s tar sands has “two-to-three times the global warming pollution of conventional oil,” according to eminent scientist James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “But the process also diminishes one of the best carbon-reduction tools on the planet: Canada’s Boreal Forest.”

Similar protests are planned at Canadian embassies in London, Paris and Vienna.

“Ultimately only Canadian people can stop the expansion of the tar sands. Through our demonstrations we want to show Canadians there is international support for a moratorium,” says first-time organizer Derek Leahy, a Canadian living in Berlin.

“We believe Canadians will make the right decision,” Leahy said

“Although European companies and banks are profiting from Canada’s tar sands few Europeans have heard about the tar sands. We intend to change that ,” he said

[Full disclosure: this is copied from a press release and Derek is my son — Steve]

Not only is a pristine forest amounting to 40 per cent of Germany being destroyed, extracting oil from the tar sands requires enormous quantities of fresh water — almost double what 3.4 million Berliners use in a full year. The mining process contaminates 90 percent of this valuable water leaving “lakes” of toxic waste totaling more than five times the size of Berlin’s Wannsee. Some 1600 migratory ducks died after landing in one wastewater lake in 2008. By 2020 these toxic bodies of water are expected to contain 1.1 billion cubic meters of waste and cover 250 sq km.

Not only is a pristine forest amounting to 40 per cent of Germany being destroyed, extracting oil from the tar sands requires enormous quantities of fresh water — almost double what 3.4 million Berliners use in a full year. The mining process contaminates 90 percent of this valuable water leaving “lakes” of toxic waste totaling more than five times the size of Berlin’s famous Wannsee where 50,000 flock to cool off at Europe’s biggest inland beach. By 2020 these toxic bodies of water are expected to contain 1.1 billion cubic meters of waste and cover 250 sq km.

Canada’s oil sands are similar to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill “but playing out in slow motion” — RiskMetrics Group in a May 2010 report report warning investors of the ecological, financial and social risks of oil sands investments.

The Gulf oil spill and increasing public disapproval of offshore drilling have led to increased interest in rapid expansion of the tar sands which are called oil sands by the industry.

“The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a tragic accident and environmental catastrophe but will be stopped, hopefully very soon,” says life-long Berlin resident Jendrik Terasa. “With much less media attention, billions of euros are being pumped into Canada’s tar sands to double its operations from the present 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.”

“This is a far bigger long-term disaster.”

Largely because of the tar sands Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have grown 24 per cent since 1990, more than any other G8 nation according to the 2008 national inventory report that Environment Canada filed with the United Nations.

“Oil extraction from tar sands is polluting, destructive, expensive and energy-intensive. These things are facts.” — John Podesta, President of the Center for American Progress, June 23 2010

Although nearly all of this dirty oil goes to the US presently, some of the tar sands’ future production is destined for China. Two proposed 1,170 km pipelines through Canada’s Rocky Mountains have been proposed to deliver the oil to a planned supertanker terminal on the remote British Columbia north coast.

A project of this scale requires enormous amounts of domestic and international financing. Banks in Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Italy, and the Netherlands are invested in tar sands projects along with a number of North American institutions. It is believed that many more banks have also extended credit for tar sands projects.

Major European oil companies like Norway’s Statoil, Netherlands/UK-based Shell, and France’s Total are currently operating in the tar sands. In late 2007 BP quietly approved its first tar sands project although previously promising to not operate in the region due to excessive environmental impacts.
Leahy: “This is a truly global issue. Canada is supplying the world’s addiction to oil while multinational companies and banks are rolling the dice with the future of our planet.”


The European Union could take positive action and prohibit the use of Canada’s dirty oil under the fuel quality directive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road fuels. However the current revision of the directive gives Canada’s tar sands a free pass, despite the far higher emissions rating compared to conventional oil production. A group of MEPs said on 5 July they will reject the revision without better defining the value of life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands oil.

Tar Sands (also called oil sands) Facts

* Tar sands are a mixture of a tar-like form of petroleum called bitumen, together with clay, sand and water. The mixture must be mined, boiled and steamed in order to transform it into crude oil.

* Canada’s tar sands are the second largest proven petroleum reserve in the world, behind Saudi Arabia according to government officials.

* Average greenhouse gas emissions for oil sands extraction and upgrading are estimated to be 3.2 to 4.5 times as intensive per barrel as for conventional crude oil produced in Canada or the United States.

* Canada’s province of Alberta’s where the tar sands are located has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per person in the world. In 2005 — 70.2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person

* Mining operations alone are licensed to divert 652 million cubic metres of water each year, more than 3 times Berlin’s drinking water use (205 cu. m.)

For more information on the International “Stop the Tar Sands” Day campaign, please visit the group’s Facebook page or contact rob.ourdecade@gmail.com.

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