[OPE-L] Tar Sands, 1 of 2

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu Jun 01 2006 - 08:17:00 EDT

via Globolist.

Canada Pays Environmentally for U.S. Oil Thirst
Huge Mines Rapidly Draining Rivers, Cutting Into Forests, Boosting

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 31, 2006; Page A01

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta -- Huge mines here turning tarry sand into
cash  for Canada and oil for the United States are taking an unexpectedly
high environmental toll, sucking water from rivers and natural gas
from wells and producing large amounts of gases linked to global warming.

The digging -- into an area the size of Maryland and Virginia
combined -- has proliferated at gold-rush speed, spurred by high oil
prices, new technology and an unquenched U.S. thirst for the fuel. The
expansion  has presented ecological problems that experts thought they
would have decades to resolve.

"The river used to be blue. Now it's brown. Nobody can fish or drink
from it. The air is bad. This has all happened so fast," said Elsie
Fabian, 63, an elder in a native Indian community along the
Athabasca River, a wide, meandering waterway once plied by fur traders.
"It's  terrible. We're surrounded by the mines."

 From her home on the bluff of the river, she can see billowing
steam rising from a vast strip mine 10 miles away. There, almost 200 feet
below what was once a forest, giant machines cleave the earth into a
cratered moonscape. Immense shovels plunge into the ground, wresting
out massive chunks. Trucks the size of houses prowl the pit. They
deliver the black soil to clanking conveyers and vats that steam the
tar from the sand.

The miners have created a marvel of human industry that takes a
spongy  muck once considered worthless and converts it into oil for
gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. But the price of that alchemy is high:
Each barrel  of oil requires two to five barrels of water, carves up
four tons of  earth, uses enough natural gas to heat a home for one to
five days, and  adds to the greenhouse gases slowly cooking the planet,
according to  the industry's own calculations.

"The environmental cost has been great," said Jim Boucher, chief of
the Fort MacKay First Nations Council, which includes Cree and Dene
Indians, 35 miles north of Fort McMurray. He grew up on land that is
now a clawed-out mine pit. But he has led his people into the mines
by  creating native-owned companies providing catering, truck driving,
surveying and other services. "There is no other economic option,"
he  said. "Hunting, trapping, fishing is gone."

Operators of the mines, which have helped make Canada the largest
supplier of oil to the United States, believe they can find
technological solutions to the environmental problems.


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