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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oil Sands Pollution Draws Calls for Moratorium

Just a reminder of what South Dakota's buying into as we allow TransCanada to plow pipelines across out fair state: the tar sands oil the Keystone pipelines will carry is dirtier than conventional oil, so much so that communities hundreds of kilometers upstream from tar sands projects are worried their water is already being polluted. The Northwest Territories Association of Communities just passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on tar sands development until the Canadian federal and provincial governments can work out better protections for water quality.

Among the reasons for concern:
  1. An Alberta Health Services study released last February found more instances of cancer than expected in Fort Chipewyan, a community on Athabasca Lake, 260 kilometers downstream from tar sands development. As the CMAJ points out, the study doesn't establish a causal link to any environmental factors, but if I found 30% more cancer in my neighborhood, I'd be looking around for some sort of pollution.
  2. The Globe and Mail reports that some Fort Chipewyan residents have stopped eating fish and drinking water from the Athabasca River after catching fish with unusual lesions. Eewww.
  3. Folks downstream are also worried about pollution from leaking tailings ponds. Those ponds are already killing ducks, as reported here last May, and they could kill as many as 160 million migratory birds over the next three decades of development. According to Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, the tar sands tailings ponds currently rise 300 feet above ground and cover 80 square miles of what used ot be forest and wetland. Currently that's about 190 billion gallons of sludge chock full of poisonous chemicals. That's enough to cover 912 square miles a foot deep in muck (Lake County is 575 square miles). If I had nothing but leaky dikes between my water supply and that much toxic waste, I'd be nervous, too.
Notice that the NWT communities aren't asking for the tar sands to shut down. Folks in Yellowknife rely on fossil fuels to survive as much as anyone else in Canada. They're just asking that Canada's government and oil companies do more to ensure the safety of their drinking water, which, last I checked, is more essential to survival than oil.

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