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The Canadian Oil Industry and Our Hungry Ghosts

Posted Nov 27 2008 10:14am

By now everyone should know at least something about Canada’s oil sands:


- The largest industrial project in human history and growing rapidly

- The second largest oil reserves in the world (largest by some estimates)

- The largest supplier of oil to the U.S. (more than Saudi Arabia)

- Occupies an area larger than Florida

- The biggest machines in the world move enough earth every 2 days to fill Yankee Stadium

- The second fastest rate of deforestation after the Amazon basin

- The largest dam on the planet (which holds back tailings, not water)

- 3 times more carbon intensive to produce a barrel of oil from the oil sands than it is through conventional methods

- Emissions expected to double in 3 years

- Water contamination is killing people, plants and animals

- 70% of Canada’s oil is exported to America


Although energy security and economic activity are great for North America today, oil sands development in Canada comes at a cost for us all tomorrow.

For almost everyone, Northern Alberta is far away. The social issues that arise with large-scale industrial projects are a necessary evil; the people dying of diseases as a result of water contamination are First Nations (and are therefore basically invisible in our society); the #1 solution to global warming remains to ignore it (curiously similar to the solution to our wars in the Middle East- yes, fueled by Canadian oil). If we don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

Yet the oil sands are the backbone of Canada’s economy and America’s strongest trading partner. The new President-Elect has vowed to pursue an energy independence mandate which will undoubtedly rely on Canadian oil. While that may be appear to be a positive thing as we enter a new era both politically and economically, our bad habits and shortsightedness are breeding hungry ghosts. The oil sands are too big an issue to hide anymore (even in the Boreal forest). The question comes up time and again: “How far are we willing to go to pursue our addiction?”

Alex Haythorne for The Element Agency in Vancouver

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