Fighting Tar Sands 

Protesters from around the country are holding a sit-in at the White House against the destructive oil extraction process.

One of the most overlooked environmental threats in North America during the past half-decade has been the massive tar sands project in Alberta, Canada. Although the project involves the clear-cutting of a pristine forest the size of Florida, it has received little attention in the United States. But that's starting to change this week thanks to activists from around the country, including Northern California, who are currently holding a sit-in at the White House. The demonstrators are protesting a plan by the Obama administration that would greatly expand the tar sands oil extraction process — known as the dirtiest in the world.

The US State Department is poised to green-light a proposal to build a gigantic web of pipelines across North America, connecting the tar sands development in Alberta to markets and refineries throughout the United States. The pipelines are expected to dramatically increase demand for oil produced from tar sands, while fostering the growth of the process. And the stakes are huge: Canada is sitting atop an estimated 200 billion barrels of oil in tar sands — second only to Saudi Arabia's known petroleum reserves.

Many environmentalists fear that the expansion of tar sands oil extraction will mark a tipping point in terms of climate change. NASA climatologist James Hansen recently wrote that if tar sands development greatly increases, it's "game over" for the fight against global warming. "The tar sands of Canada constitute one of our planet's greatest threats," Hansen wrote. "They are a double-barrelled threat. First, producing oil from tar sands emits two-to-three times the global warming pollution of conventional oil. But the process also diminishes one of the best carbon-reduction tools on the planet: Canada's Boreal Forest."

To meet demand from the United States, the Canadian government estimates that it will need to double its current tar sands production over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels of oil a day. And the environmental destruction from tar sands, as Gasland director Josh Fox recently pointed out, will blow your mind:

Once forests are cut down, extracting oil trapped in tar sands resembles strip mining, and leaves a moonscape akin to Tolkien's Mordor. The tar sands are then squeezed, and boiled to remove the oil. The process uses incredible amounts of water — about the same as a city with 2 million people. The wastewater is then left in giant pits so large they can be seen from space.

The process also uses tremendous amounts of energy. In 2007 alone, the Alberta tar sands development used 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. Not surprisingly, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted is astonishing: 36 million tons of carbon dioxide a day, the equivalent of 1.3 million cars.

Last weekend, The New York Times editorialized against the proposed pipelines, and as of Monday, several hundred protesters, led by environmental author Bill McKibben, had been arrested at the White House sit-in. It's scheduled to last through September 3.

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Latest in Eco Watch

  • Jerry Brown's Cap-and-Trade Program Isn't Working

    California's greenhouse gas emissions declined last year. But it was primarily due to the rainy weather — not the governor's climate policies.
    • Nov 22, 2017
  • The Return of the Crematorium

    Overburdened with air pollution, East Oakland residents and activists thought they had blocked a crematorium from opening in 2012. But it quietly began operations a few months ago.
    • Nov 15, 2017
  • Living Dangerously

    As Californians increasingly build homes near forests and in wildland areas, the number of fires and their destructive force threaten to intensify.
    • Oct 25, 2017
  • More »

Author Archives

  • Why Oakland Should Cut Off ICE

    Federal immigration officials say they've been investigating "human trafficking" in the city. But in the past decade, they have not imprisoned anyone from Oakland for that crime.
    • Nov 22, 2017
  • Get Away and Spread Some Cheer

    Here are some beautiful getaway spots for this holiday season that also could use your help.
    • Nov 22, 2017
  • More»

Most Popular Stories

  • Highland Hospital Surveillance Stirs Concerns

    The county's main hospital in Oakland has a camera that reads license plates and shares that information with federal law enforcement, including ICE.
  • Davis Dysfunction Dooms Raiders Again

    Mark Davis’ head-scratching decision to move the team to Las Vegas has proven to be a major distraction for the team.
  • The Wrong Path?

    Paideia helped turn Oakland Tech into the best public high school in the city. But some teachers and parents are worried about the future of the acclaimed humanities program.
  • Why Oakland Should Cut Off ICE

    Federal immigration officials say they've been investigating "human trafficking" in the city. But in the past decade, they have not imprisoned anyone from Oakland for that crime.
  • Weathering the Heat

    In the decades ahead, as temperatures rise and droughts intensify, Northern California's climate, vegetation, and wildlife may look more like Southern California does today.

Special Reports

Holiday Guide 2017

A guide to this holiday season's gifts, outings, eats, and more.

Taste, Fall 2017

© 2017 East Bay Express    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation