Alberta Tar Sands Essay

Topics: Athabasca Oil Sands, Alberta, Petroleum Pages: 6 (2375 words) Published: May 30, 2011
“Only when the last tree had died and the last river has been poisoned…will we realize that we cannot eat money”. This is an old Cree saying that is very applicable today. Is the mining of the Alberta tar sands worthwhile, knowing its devastating effects on the environment? There are very valid points for both arguments, being them economical, political, environmental, or moral. The mining of bitumen is not something that is sustainable for the environment, or the companies involved. Although these open-pit mines produce much of the world’s oil, people should consider paying more at the pumps rather than destroying the only world we have to live in. The tar sands in Alberta essentially benefit every country but Canada, and everyone will have to pay the price of the damage caused to the environment. Pollution is caused in the production of bitumen, as well as in its consumption. The first documented European discovery of the tar sands in the Athabasca region of Northern Alberta was made by Alexander Mackenzie in 1773.1 Over one hundred years later in 1899, Charles Mair and a party of Dene natives explored the Athabasca area by request of the Canadian government.1 Mair and his party stayed at the northern fur trading post of Fort Chipewan.1 Following his visit to the region, Mair made a very prophetic statement: “That this region is stored with a substance of great economic value is beyond all doubt, and, when the hour of development comes, it will, I believe, prove to be one of the wonders of Northern Canada”.1 Commercial development of the Alberta tar sands first began in 1967 by Suncor . The oil crisis in 1973 sparked investor’s interest in mining development in Alberta, and Herman Kahn proposed that the Canadian government begin mining the tar sands.1 However, the Trudeau government believed that it would overheat the economy, create steel shortages, unsettle the labor market, and drive up the Canadian dollar.1 Now, instead of Canada mining the tar sands, global companies from the United States, China, Japan, Korea, France, and Norway have invested a total of 200 billion dollars in the Alberta tar sands. These investments account for sixty percent of global oil investments.1 Bitumen is defined as a naturally occurring semisolid mixture of hydrocarbons. The fields of bitumen are naturally occurring all around the Athabasca water basin. Most of the Alberta tar sands lie so deep underground that it must be removed by first separating the bitumen from the sand using steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).1 SAGD works by using water from the Athabasca River and heating it into steam.1 The steam is then pumped into the ground using hoses. Steam melts areas of bitumen from top to bottom, and the liquid bitumen drains from to the bottom of the pit where it can be collected.1 This method was created by University of Alberta chemist, Dr. Karl Clark. It was first used by Suncor in 1965. Bitumen is considered one of the world’s dirtiest oils, because of its many impurities.1 These impurities make a complex mining system necessary. Clearly, the harsh reality of having mined all of the clean oil is that we must now mine the dirtiest. Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta has changed dramatically due to the growth of the mining industry’s presence in the tar sands.1 The growth in the area is said to be exponential, with no chance of slowing down anytime soon.1 This growth has completely changed the identity of the city. Housing in Fort McMurray is scarce and expensive.1 It is nearly impossible to live in Fort McMurray unless you work in the mines. This has destroyed small business owners in the city, because they cannot get anyone to work for them at a reasonable wage. Also, the high average family income has caused high inflation rates. The mine employees who live in the city temporarily have caused the city shortfalls in roads, schools, and health care. Although shocking, these are typical problems that face cities that...
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