If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Best of 2009/2010: Andrew Nikiforuk on tar-sands oil-mining and its terrible global and regional environmental impacts


Andrew Nikiforuk

Andrew Nikiforuk

This week, a repeat of Dr. Caldicott’s October 12, 2009 interview with award-winning journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk. Nikiforuk discusses his recent book: The Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of the Continent, published by D&M Publishers and winner of the 2009 Rachel Carson Environmental Book Award. He is also the author of a novel called Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig’s War Against Big Oil. For the last two decades, Nikiforuk has written about energy, economics and the West for a variety of Canadian publications, and received seven National Magazine Awards from the Association of Canadian Journalists. The development and exploitation of the tar sands in Canada is currently the world’s largest energy project. Read Nikiforuk’s November 4, 2010 article Gouged Earth: Big Part of Oil Sands Carbon Footprint, his October 15, 2010 article A Fracking Disaster in the Making: Report, his September 22 article The Fallacy of ‘Ethical Oil’ Better to describe Canada’s oil sands crude as ‘the devil’s tears’, his September 17, 2010 article A Smoking Gun on Athabasca River: Deformed Fish, and his July 15, 2010 article What Those Who Killed the Tar Sands Report Don’t Want You to Know.

How Boreal forest is turned into open-pit mines for oil extraction in Albertas tar sands.  Image:  David Childs/citizenshift.org

How the Boreal Forest is turned into open-pit mines for oil extraction in Alberta's tar sands. Image: David Childs/citizenshift.org

At the start of the show, Nikiforuk defines bitumen, the substance extracted in the Canadian tar sands operations which can be used in place of light oil. He explains the enormous size of the tar sands mining region in Alberta, the environmental impact of the tar sands mining, and how much energy is expended. Dr. Caldicott and Nikiforuk also look at plans to build nuclear power plants to power
the mining operations in Alberta, and the carbon footprint of nuclear power. Dr. Caldicott refers to a study by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen on nuclear energy and climate change.

In describing the amount of greenhouse emissions related to the tar sands mining, Nikiforuk says that bitumen is now the world’s most carbon-intensive hydrocarbon, and its incredibly toxic and destructive mining in Canada is representative of what will happen if the world continues to produce “dirtier and dirtier fossil fuels as we run out of light oil.” Nikiforuk addresses the arguments used by the Canadian government and industry to justify the tar sands. Next, the conversation turns to carbon capture and storage, and why this much-discussed technology is totally unfeasible and contraindicated to reduce global warming. Nikiforuk presents the staggering statistics of how wasteful and ineffective carbon storage would be, and the enormity of the infrastructure needed to conduct even minimal carbon capture. Nikiforuk says that carbon capture is already triggering earthquakes in Alberta. Read a report covering carbon capture problems, Burying Carbon Dioxide In Underground Saline Aquifers: Political Folly or Climate Change Fix?

Dr. Caldicott talks about Canada’s vast potential to be a world leader in sustainable energy, and Nikiforuk explains some of the present roadblocks to that scenario. But he says that pressure from Americans and Europeans may be the critical factor needed to stop the tar sands. He mentions New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s contention that the U.S. must totally stop using oil. Watch Friedman’s documentary, Addicted to Oil, on YouTube (in 5 parts). Near the end of the program, Nikiforuk explains the difference between “dirty oil” and “bloody oil.” Dr. Caldicott says that continuing to mine the tar sands with all incumbent local and global pollution and destruction is essentially killing the Earth to make money.

Greenpeace tar sands protest (Treehugger.com)

Greenpeace tar sands protest (Treehugger.com)

For more information on the tar sands, visit the websites of Oil Sands Watch and Tar Sands Watch.
See the Greenpeace page, Stop the Tar Sands. Look at the report Clearing the Air on Oil Sands Myths. Read the articles Oil Sands: The Costs of Alberta’s “Black Gold” and Behold! Canada’s most disgusting export: Nothing like Alberta’s revolting oilsands to destroy your optimism. Also see Burning to Get Bigger: US Oil Refineries Are Expanding so They Can Process Petroleum from Canadian Tar Sands. Check out Oilsands emit more than entire countries: report and the National Geographic feature, The Canadian Oil Boom. Also read Alberta’s oilsands: Black gold or black eye? which has several related and linked articles. See the statistics about the emissions and other problems of the tar sands in By the numbers. Check out the map of where the tar sands are being extracted. Read Dirty oil: Who’s who?: Nikiforuk’s 10 major players driving the ‘dirty oil’ label. Also read Canada’s Highway to Hell and Alberta’s Oil Sands: Key Issues and Impacts. Visit the Wikipedia page about the Athabasca Oil Sands. Read the blog entry Time gushes over boys with toys. And see the ad placed by Forest Ethics in the New York Times, “Canada’s Tar Sands: The Dirtiest Oil on Earth”. One topic not addressed in this program is Canada’s endangered Boreal Forest, which is damaged by tar sands mines. Read the NRDC fact sheet Strip Mining for Oil in Endangered Forests and see Forest Ethic’s tar sands page. Read how the Boreal Forest helps shield the world from global warming and see the Greenpeace report, Turning Up the Heat : Global Warming and the Degradation of Canada’s Boreal Forest.

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