Sunday, April 12, 2009


By Andrew Nikiforuk.

Tar SandsIn Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, Andrew Nikiforuk documents Canada’s and Alberta’s rapid and continuing descent into becoming just another failing petro-state. Clearly both levels of government would argue with the use of the term ‘descent’, but what else could you call it when the exploitation of the tar sands confers Canadian membership in a club that includes such bastions of democracy and human rights as Venezuela, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Angola, among others.

From Alberta’s absence of accountability and failure to implement a reasonable royalty regime (currently among the lowest in the world), to the environmental time bomb represented by the tailings ponds (presently covering 23 square miles at an average height of 270 feet above the forest floor), Nikiforuk shines a much needed light into many very dark corners.

In this well researched indictment, Nikiforuk also provides some sobering insights.

  • On the economics of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) Nikiforuk quotes University of Manitoba professor and energy expert Vaclav Smil. “CCS, he argues, is part of the same thinking that gave us the energy spectacle of “a 50-kg female driving a 3,000-kg SUV in order to pick up a 1-kg carton of milk.””
  • On the tailing ponds he says, “Within a decade the ponds will cover an area of 85 square miles. Experts now say it might take a thousand years for the clay in the dirty water to settle out.”
  • On using natural gas to separate oil from bitumen he quotes one Albertan who recently observed: “Using natural gas to develop oil sands is like using caviar as a fertilizer to grow turnips.”
  • And On The First Law of Petropolitics he gives us this: “New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman unveiled the law in a 2006 issue of Foreign Policy Review, and it goes like this: the price of oil and the quality of freedom invariably travel in opposite  directions. As the price of crude oil climbs higher in an oil-dominated country, poor or rich, secular or Muslim, that country’s citizens will, over time, experience less free speech, declining freedom of the press, and a steady erosion of the rule of law.”

If you are concerned at all about Canadian politics, Alberta politics, or the environment, this book is a must-read.

Highly recommended.

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