What in Tar-nation? Alberta’s Tar Sands at the Dinner Table

We can’t talk about it at the holiday dinner table because one of the kids picked himself up and got himself out of debt by getting a job there. Sure, we’ve touched on it briefly after a couple of mojitos, but when I first learned that my brother-in-law was a mechanic for the larger-than-life trucks that speckle Fort McMurray, Canada’s oil-country, it put a frog in my throat, especially since I used to be heavily associated with Greenpeace, a leading campaigner against the Alberta tar sands.

Getting into the pros and cons of the Alberta operation would lead to an unpolite family dinner conversation. But in all truth, like Ellen Cantarow said, energy is ugly, so what the hell. And tar sands are as ugly as energy can be. “Tar sands are sandy soils laden with a tar-like substance called bitumen. Getting oil out of them is a dirty, dangerous and deadly process,”   said Cantarow in her article.

Yes, my brother-in-law knows all about the displacement of the local indigenous population; he’s spoken to a few of them; shared a beer with them; and he has a right to earn a living, after all, even if it’s being employed in what many people consider a stain on Canada. Even Barack Obama is beginning to take a stand against importing the stuff into the land of the free.

“These tarsands, there are some environmental questions about how destructive they are, potentially, what are the dangers there and we’ve got to examine all those questions,” said Obama in an article from last Sunday’s Calgary Herald.

Some of the fuss around what Obama said was due to the fact that he called them “tar sands” – a term typically used by environmental activists.

According to Cantarow, “tar sands is a colloquialism for 54,000 square miles of bitumen that veins sand and clay beneath the boreal forests of Alberta, one of Canada’s western provinces. Black as it is, bitumen isn’t actually tar, though it looks and smells like tar, and has its consistency on a very cold day—hence, that term ‘tar sands’.”

Regardless of what it’s called, it is the last bastion of an oil-hungry world. The process for separating the fuel from the sediment is so economically and temporally arduous that it’s really a last resort when reserves are low to create a push for other sources.

While my tar-sands-working family associate isn’t likely to join the growing throngs of people opposed to his work, he claims that he’s not the one doing the extraction, after all, he’s just the mechanic.

You don’t have to cop out of making a difference like my brother-in-law, though. One way to tackle this slippery issue is to vote for the parties who don’t support the tar sands, such as Stephen “Tar” per and Micheal “Oil Rig”natieff. Greenpeace Canada has prepared a federal election guide (pdf)   to stopping the tar sands. Tarsandswatch.org also has a petition you can sign to send to our oily leaders. Sign it here!

* Tar Sands image courtesy of distantocean.com

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  • You just hate to see all of the resources being wasted on the “tar sands” we’re getting close to the point where it will take as much energy to extract the fuel as you could create by extracting it. Is it so difficult for companies to understand that their own best interests will be served researching and developing alternative energy sources?

    Sometimes I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

  • I know what you mean! Which is why it’s so important to avoid apathy at all costs and do what we can to make a difference… like voting so our tax dollars don’t fund projects like this.

  • It astounds me that so many people don’t vote.

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