Tar Sands: Ethical Oil?

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Greenwashing tar sands is never ethical

Greenwashing tar sands. Ethical oil? You wouldn’t think that greenwasshing would ever be a real problem when it comes to the Alberta Tar Sands. It is more or less assumed, or at least should be, that there’s not much in the way of green when it comes to the process of squeezing low quality oil out of tar sand.

Ethical Oil – pernicious industrial rebranding run amok

But in fact there is greenwashing. Perhaps some of the most egregious kind because of the devastation tar sands extraction wreaks on the land, the air and the people. Could it possibly be characterized as “Ethical Oil?” Sure, by cynically contrasting the Tar Sands to the politics and norms of Saudi Arabia. It is a fallacy to assert “ethics” in such a comparison.

As author Naomi Klein says in the video below:

“I have never seen anything quite as audacious as the campaign to rebrand the Tar Sands as “ethical oil.” We don’t have ethical oil in Canada, we have tar sands oil, which is like regular oil, but a whole lot dirtier. It ravages the Earth as it is extracted”

Extraction of fossil fuels, in all its forms and from every place on Earth, carries with it the burden of consequences. Claiming “ethics” is the height of cynical manipulation of public sentiment.

Tar Sands production is the most ecologically devastating industrial process on Earth. So much so that it can now be seen from space.

Reclaiming the land

Suncor Energy claims that the devastated land left in the wake of tar sands extraction can be “100 percent reclaimed,” while currently only able to point to 7 percent reclamation from its operations. “It’s a step in the process,” says Mark Boulton, an ecosystems advisor for Suncor. But while he may seem sincere in his efforts, can tar-sand-wrecked-land ever be fully, or even partially, recovered in any meaningful way?

Research suggests not.

“There have been papers that have come out recently,” says Dr. David Schindler a professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta, “showing that you can’t reclaim the aquifers, that you can’t reclaim the wetlands, with the cost of any reasonable reclamation so high that there would be no money made on the oil sands.”

Tar sand and human health

Arsenic is a well-known carcinogen, “it’s a cancer-maker” says Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. 

“It is associated with bitumen production. The more you process those deposits, the more you’re going to bring arsenic and lead and other heavy metals to the surface. If you’re not careful, over time, you will see larger and larger pulses of arsenic and other cancer-makers into waterways.”

Local populations, mostly First Nation communities, suffer from increased instances of arthritis and a variety of cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma and biliary tract cancer explains Dr. Gina Solomon, Professor of Medicine at the University of California.

“I looked into the types of cancers that are particularly elevated for Chippawa and it’s interesting. A lot of them have been linked to hydrocarbon exposures. In other words exposures to oil and petroleum products.”

Among those cancers already listed is a “surprising” increase of a very rare cancer called soft tissue sarcoma.

The fact is that rates of cancer in communities downstream of tar sands operations are 3 to 7 times higher, depending on the type of cancer, than would typically be expected. First Nation communities have already endured the tragic consequences of what some call “ethical oil”

The destruction of the land from this ethical oil can be seen from space. It leaves a scar on the land and the people from which there is no recovery, no full reclamation – not in our lifetime, nor our children’s or theirs. Long after the last drop of dirty oil has been squeezed from the sand, the crippling consequences will remain.

Claiming exploitation of tar sands as ethical is more than greenwashing, it is morally irresponsible.

We may, as a society, chose the short term measure, opting for our own last little bit of the fossil fuel era at the cost of all who come after. But if we do, we should face it honestly, clear in our intent and its consequences. And if we do, we should leave any talk of ethics out of it.


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