Thursday, September 12, 2013

O Canada! Our home and wasted land!

O Canada! 

Our home and wasted land!

True populist love in all thy folks command.

With angry hearts we see thee fail!

The Bitumen North bane and bond

From near and narrow,

O Canada, we stand no guard for all.

Tar keep our land vainglorious and thrall!

O Canada, we stand no guard for all.

O Canada, we stand no guard for all.

 ~ From a reader, writing in response to Alberta's reception of Neil Young's comments about the tar sands being a wasteland.

Neil Young, speaking at the U.S. National Farmers Union conference in Washington on Monday:
“Yeah it’s going to put a lot of people to work, I’ve heard that, and I’ve seen a lot of people that would dig a hole that’s so deep that they couldn’t get out of it, and that’s a job too, and I think that’s the jobs that we are talking about there with the Keystone pipeline.”


Anonymous said...

What's bizarre is NY is around same age as the old-farts-in-charge.

Anonymous said...

Young came up here with his biased and pre-conceived notions. One of the local producers here went out of his way to line up a number of people Young could have spoken to to get a balanced view of our region. But it was clear Young only wanted to see what he wanted to see. Using a reference to Hiroshima to refer to Fort McMurray also shows a profound lack of judgement and taste in my opinion.

Alison said...

I'm looking at that photo, WWU - you can click on it to see it enlarged - and I'm trying to figure out just what you would balance the word 'wasteland' with.

Boris said...

WWU, there is no balanced view of your region. It exists to extract bitumen oil at the expese of 1) the local boreal ecosystem; 2) the communities in the Athabasca watershed including the First Nations upon whose traditional territory the mines exist; 3) the global climate change and health problems that result from the burning of fossil fuels. The well-being of the immediate residents of Fort Mac and the mobile oil field workers do not compare to the overwhelmingly negative impact the Tar Sands have on my planet. You are burning down my home, and the home of my children.

If you think I am wrong, please explain why.

Anonymous said...

Alison, this region is huge....the oilsands are but one small part. I live here so I see plenty of great scenery that balances out this photo.

Boris, thanks for reiterating that you don't care about your fellow Canadians. The truth is that Young made a number of statements that just aren't true. And my home is about 30km from Suncor and doing just fine. So I'm sure yours is just fine too. I'd love to know where all this cancer is as I do quite a lot of fishing in the area. Have you?

Frankly, people like Young and yourself, are no better and no more helpful than the Ezra Levants of this world. You polarize the debate to the extent that rational discussion can't even take place.

Anonymous said...

And how much of our boreal ecosystem has been disturbed by oil sand activities? Surely you must know if they are in dire peril?

Anonymous said...

Go to this site to see the destruction in the Tar Sands.

Boris said...

WWU, what did Neil say that wasn't true?

Cancer is measured in by type and incidence rate. It will show up as statistical anomaly in the overall population. It may not be visible within your social circles, but the people who suffer and die that otherwise would not have, surely will.

In terms of Canadian jobs, I think everyone ought to have access to gainful employment, but not at the expense of human and ecological healh. Right now, oil sands jobs are destroying my future. I'm sorry, but you don't seem to get this basic point.

Further, the way the economics of the Tar Sands are going, the high paid workers up there now will likely be replaced by contigent, low-payed, and very likely foreign workers. Especially given the heavy Chinese investment in Canadian energy resources.

Anonymous said...

Boris, Young maintained the oil sands projects could be smelled from right here in the city.....not true. He also compared the city to Hiroshima.....again, not true.

Oil sands jobs are actually creating a lot of employment. Last time I checked Alberta had one of the highest average wages in the country. I would agree with you however, that change at times seems to come too quickly. One of the challenges in our region is that infrastructure is hard-pressed to keep up with our growing population. Certainly this is an on-going issue that needs to be addressed. Just curious as to how oil sands jobs are destroying your future as there is plenty of opportunity here. I would also certainly agree with you that Canadians should be given first crack at jobs here which I assume would be your position.

Cancer is actually quite visible in my social circle as my one tenant's mother who live up in Fort MacKay, has lung cancer but this is from a lifetime of smoking.

You also mentioned previously that oil sands development is destroying boreal forest but didn't answer my question so with respect I will re-pose it here.

Boris said...

According to Wiki, 90K to 166 000 were killed during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The annual deaths from air pollution exceed 2 million according to one study (, and some 200 000 die prematurely in the US. A major cause of air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels, which is the whole point of bitumen mining. Furthermore, runaway climate change will likely mean millions more dead as a result of floods, fires, droughts, wars, forced migrations, and so on. It really only took a matter of years to rebuild Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombs. It will take hundreds, if not thousands of years if ever to compensate for drowned cities and depopulated countries. The Tar Sands are a key part of the energy and economic systems that are killing people today, will do so in the future in ways that dwarf Hiroshima.

In terms of the boreal forest, see Pembina's ( cited summary:
The current area disturbed by oilsands mining (715 square kilometres) is the same size as the urban area of the City of Calgary.16
In total, 4,700 square kilometres have been leased for oilsands surface mining operations as of January 2013. 17
By 2022, it is expected that mining and in situ oilsands development will result in the daily clearing of 18.6 hectares of forest, or the equivalent of 34.5 football fields, every day.18
Mining operations have an average land use intensity of 9.4x10-6 hectares per barrel.19

The total area available for surface mining, which means total erasure of the boreal forest 'overburden' is something like 6 times the size of New York City. Being part of an ecosystem, the destruction of one part of the boreal forest will impact other parts as local climate, species distribution, and so on will be impacted. The fact the extraction of bitumen oil creates toxic tailings ponds and air pollution including H2S also means that the environment is and will continue to be poisoned, not just altered, making long-term recovery even more difficult.

The boreal forest in the Wood Buffalo is also home and sacred to First Nations and non-First Nations, who must now live with the impact of a toxic open pit mine they never asked for. The boreal forest also part of the Earth's lung, generating oxygen and absorbing CO2, making it integral to the well being of all living things. Destroying it for the sake of sitting in a box with wheels, or a fat paycheque is insane.

Regarding the challenges of infrastructure and well-paying jobs, Fort McMurray's development trajectory is seeing the town itself transition to a mobile work camp, with the first 'camp' developments in the city itself now underway. I suspect the municipalities tax income is not enough to keep up with the provision of services to the expanding suburbs. When I was there a few years ago, there were new condoblocks condemned because there's little oversight in a boomtown. It is far more efficient to house workers in camp blocks with service costs offset by industry. The way these things go, they will try to find other ways of reducing costs, which may eventually impact wages. Right now Fort McMurray is in an extended hyperboom, which will eventually result in a bust. THe bust could be due to an oil price crash, climate treaty, shift to much cheaper foreign workers (just wait!), or some unforeseen local event like the collapse of overstretched municipal services. Everything about Fort Mac is temporary and contigent, and exceeding precarious. Everything that is, except for the fatal environmental damage and the impact that has other people.

Boris said...

The greater sage grouse. Estimated 150 left due to habitat destruction by the oil and gas industry. Grouse species, like any, are the product of evolutionary developments that go back to the first life that grew in the oceans in the ancient Earth. Being birds, they have a link to the dinosaurs. 150 left out of a direct ancestory that includes every single grouse that lived in the past 5 to 6 million years, when the species distributed and diffused in N. America. 6 million years of evolution, surviving great ice ages and all those geological events that that wiped out other species, only to encounter us and our unwillingness to give our oil habit because some folks have jobs in the oil and gas industry.

Anonymous said...

Boris, thanks for the information. Forgive me in advance if I don't address all the points you raise. its not for lack of trying or information but rather lack of time as I'm sure this issue is huge and can't be addressed in one simple blog commentary.

Your figure of 715 sq km matches the figure I am aware of. I think if you put that into global context though you will find that development affects a very small portion of boreal forest globally when you consider that there is roughly 16.6 million sq km of boreal forest on the planet.

I would agree that there is some climate change and humans definitely have an impact on their environment. I'm definitely not a climate change denier. Those people are out to lunch in opinion. I think that as technologies change and new ones come on line we will see a move toward less water-intensive development as in situ mind takes on a greater role here. As well, new technologies that assist in tailings pond clean up will definitely help and indeed we are starting to see the effects now with some reclaimed areas. As it stands right now, pond reclamation is a long process. Something like 40 years must pass before ponds have settled sufficiently to begin the reclamation process. I know that Suncor has been in operation for about that length of time so we are now starting to see the beginnings of reclamation. It is my hope that new technologies will come on line that will aid in the speed up of these natural processes.

As for Fort McMurray itself it indeed faces challenges, but it always has. While I hate the term "boom town" we are to an extent a boom town. I think its difficult to predict the future. Fortunately the trade I work in is essential for the proper running and maintenance and running of any site, so from a personal perspective I don't worry too much. I wouldn't classify Fort McMurray as "temporary". We have a surprisingly long history here spanning back to the days of the fur trade though I do realize that we will always be more associated with the oil industry in the minds of most people.

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