(AFP) – Feb 15, 2008
OTTAWA (AFP) — Canada's vast oil sands are the "most destructive project on the planet," environmentalists said Friday, accusing Ottawa of not enforcing its environmental laws to allow projects to blossom.
"The federal government is not using laws already on the books to require companies to reduce (CO2) emissions and clean up their toxic mess," said Matt Price of Environmental Defense.
The group pointed to more than 100 government and independent reports critical of oil firms for creating toxic waste ponds visible from space (tailing ponds covering 50 square kilometers or 30 square miles) and seeping into Alberta groundwater.
As well, it said the oil sands produce three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil extraction, and are likely responsible for acid rain in neighboring Saskatchewan province and "unusual cancer clusters" in northern Alberta.
Oil upgraders and refineries are creating health "sacrifice zones," the report said.
In Fort Chipewyan, an aboriginal community downstream of the oil sands, doctors "have been growing increasingly worried" about the number of cases of bile duct cancer, colon cancers, lymphomas, leukemia, autoimmune diseases such as lupus, as well as thyroid cancers, overactive thyroid and skin rashes, the Environmental Defense said in its summary report.
"These (health woes) were previously unheard of in the region," said Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
Arsenic has been found to be as much as 453 times acceptable levels in moose meat from the region, the Environmental Defense report said.
"Some First Nations describe how fish frying in a pan smell like burning plastic," it said.
Adam commented: "We live off the land, hunt wild game, and fish. But we're putting all that in jeopardy."
Meanwhile, lax enforcement of federal environmental and fisheries acts, according to Environmental Defense, and CO2 emission reduction targets "set deliberately low" by Environment Minister John Baird will undoubtedly spur more development of the Athabasca, Peace River and Cold Lake Oil Sands deposits, eventually turning northern Alberta into a "moonscape" and causing its CO2 emissions to double to 142 million tons by 2020, the group said.
"We're not asking the oil industry to stop, but to slow down so that we can catch up," said Councilor Willis Flett of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.
Baird was not immediately available for comment.
At an estimated 173 billion barrels, the second largest oil reserve in the world behind Saudi Arabia, the Alberta oil sands were long neglected except by local companies due to high extraction costs.
While conventional crude oil is pumped from the ground, oil sands must be mined and bitumen separated from the sand and water, then upgraded and refined.
Since 2000, skyrocketing crude oil prices and improved extraction methods have made exploitation more economical, and lured several multinational oil companies to mine the sands.
According to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, oil sands output is expected to triple over the next decade, making Canada one of the biggest energy producers in the world by then.
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