Sunday, July 30, 2006

Oil Sands Given Free Pass for Growth

Earlier this month the Supreme Court of Canada decided not to hear an appeal that sought a wider environmental assessment of the $5-billion Fort Hill oil sands project, ruling that the development could go forward on the basis of an impact assessment of one small creek, rather than the full 200 square kilometres affected by the project.

Now, with no risk of a Supreme Court precedent that would demand the proper environmental assessments of oil sands projects, Shell has announced its intention to proceed with an $11.2 billion expansion of the Athabasca Oil Sands.

The volume of water diversions currently authorized from the Athabasca River are already twice that used by the City of Calgary in a single year. With no end to increased production in sight, the strain on both climate and ecosystems will continue to spiral upward unless proper checks and balances are brought into place.

In an era of soaring energy prices, the scenario above encapsulates the struggle that will frame future of the planet - the uncomprehensible short-term wealth of oil production versus the inescapable long-term need for a sustainable world. So long as control of these decisions remains in the hands of those who stand to gain the most from short-term oil profits, the outcomes will continue to be alarmingly predictable.


Liberal Pebbles said...

You don't comment that the flow on the Athabasca is about 10 times the flow on the river thru Calgary.

Odiyya said...

Granted, but the comaparison to Calgary was a matter of lending perspective to the volume of water that is being removed from the ecosystem.

The volume of those diversions becomes more important when you take into account the fact that, unlike water in Calgary which is diverted and then returned to the same river, the diversions from the Athabasca in large part result in permanently polluted water that will be stored in toxic tailings ponds for decades to come. Which poses a signifcant environmental risk, while permanently diminishing the volume of water reaching the downstream environment.

This fact has a double impact on water ecology when you take into account the loss of glaciers in the Rockies due to climate change. A process that is being sped up by the very act of extracting oil from the tar sands, and the effect of which will be an even greater loss of fresh water to the prairies.