Ethical Oil? Canada's Tar Sands
Canadian oil is the future. There are trillions of barrels of crude just waiting to be extracted from tar sands and shipped south, helping to fight unethical “conflict” Saudi oil. Or, at least, that’s the idea behind a new series of commercials from ethicaloil.org, an online advocate of Canadian petroleum products started by conservative lawyer Alykhan Velshi. These ads gained attention when the Saudi government threatened to sue news agencies showing them.
The issue is that some claim that the ads are merely propaganda to overlook the environmental impacts that occur when extracting crude from Canada’s vast oil sands. Samples taken from the Athabasca River have shown elevated levels of thirteen heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, and mercury, especially around the mining sites.
Communities downstream from the plants have experienced increased rates of cancer, including rare cancers that have been linked to exposure to petroleum products. However, the oil companies who are drilling have either dismissed the evidence or ignored environmentalists’ claims about the damage being done due to the massive amounts of pollutants seeping into the surrounding area. The Canadian government has issued statements urging residents to “stay calm,” asserting that there is “no cause for alarm.”
The reason for the government’s relaxed attitude towards the industry may have something to do with the estimated value of the sands, which is well over one trillion Canadian dollars. They have become part of a propaganda battle between the industry and environmental activists. Canadian Oil Sands, the largest investor in the oil sand refining company Syncrude, says on its website:
“Canadian Oil Sands has two roles in the sustainable development of the oil sands. First, we steward Syncrude to ensure that environmental, social and economic considerations are integrated into its strategy and investment decision making. Second, we contribute to the industry’s efforts to communicate to a wide range of stakeholders the challenges and opportunities around oil sands development as well as industry efforts to balance the need for energy security and economic development with environmental and social responsibility."
Though this statement sounds reasonable, it gives no definite ideas on how they keep their operations safe. The problem with declarations like this is that they ignore the truth that for any corporation the bottom line is more important than satisfying environmentalists or gaining the local people’s love.
Claims by the company that they have reduced the amount of pollution per barrel of crude produced mean little when they are also planning on expanding their operations hugely in the next few years. The fact that residents in nearby areas are already experiencing detrimental effects means that the problems will only increase in the years to come.
The saddest part is that the Canadian government cannot resist the temptation, and is now pandering to the oil companies’ whims. This is the average response of governments when money beckons, but it is sad to see happen yet again.
Though it is undeniable that Saudi Arabia and Iran have very different laws than Western countries regarding women, it is ridiculous to use this as a basis to call their petroleum “conflict oil.”
This is a transparent attempt to use Canada’s innocent reputation as a tool to sell their oil while slandering other oil producers.
Alykhan Velshi, who has led this advertising campaign, is a strongly pro-Israeli Canadian. This calls into question his decision to attack two extremely anti-Israeli countries as "conflict" regions. The blatant political nature of these ads raises concerns about the trustworthiness of their creators, including their attempts to downplay the environmental impact of the mining.
Hopefully the Canadian government will have the willpower to resist allowing an ecological disaster in return for a few years of cheap energy. If not though, the world will get to watch yet another section of the planet poisoned by human greed.
Reach reporter F. Jaspar Abu-Jaber here.
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