Tar sands, the bane of my existence

By Daniel T’seleie

Tar sands. Words can’t express the frustration I feel about having to write a blog about this atrocity that doesn’t turn into a full-on dissertation. My angry tar sands diatribes can last all day, just ask my friends and co-workers.

I’ll try to stay focused on the despicable support of the Canadian government for this reckless environmental liability.

The feds give millions (or more) in unnecessary subsidies and tax breaks to already rich tar sands companies, they refuse to enforce environmental laws that should be applied to the tar sands, they spend our taxes lobbying foreign governments to import dirty tar sands oil, and they form their foreign and domestic climate policies with the aim of protecting the tar patch and the fat cats who are getting rich off it.

Our country needs to be starting a transition off fossil fuels, not funding and promoting the expansion of their production and usage.

I’m already ranting, so I’ll qualify some of this radical rhetoric for you.

The feds gave fossil fuel companies over $1.3 billion in subsidies in 2008 (another $1 billion in subsidies came from Alberta’s government). They give over $900 million in annual tax breaks to big oil companies, despite the fact that the Department of Finance recommended an end to them. Canadians are also paying for a huge amount of the natural gas that is burned to turn tar sands into dirty oil.

If you count public tax money that is funnelled to big oil companies so they can research carbon capture and storage technology as a subsidy, then Canadians are subsidizing these corporations for billions more. Carbon capture and storage is unproven, and any carbon that can be stored pollutes ground water. But big oil companies love to have this technology subsidized because when they pump captured carbon underground it can increase the yield from dying oil wells.

Yay more profits for big oil!

A while back the non-government organization Environmental Defence put my name on a submission to NAFTA’s Commission for Environmental Cooperation about the tar sands. The Commission was created under NAFTA so that citizens from one of the three participating countries could file complaints when their government isn’t enforcing environmental legislation.

I’ve become pretty familiar with the submission, and the gist of it is that the feds are not enforcing the Fisheries Act in the area of tar sands developments. The Act makes it illegal for people and companies to release “deleterious” substances into fish-bearing waters. That just means you can’t dump toxic junk into rivers and lakes where fish live.

Tar sands tailings are toxic (deleterious), and about 11 million litres a day of contaminated water is leaking from tar sands tailings lakes into groundwater and the Athabasca River watershed.

It’s not just the Fisheries Act. There’s a briefing note from the Environment Department that outlines how our government is failing to enforce several pieces of federal environmental legislation in tar sands developments.

We’re still waiting to hear back from NAFTA on this one.

The feds aren’t just meddling with legislation, laws, and policies in Canada. They are meddling in other countries as well.

The feds, and the Alberta government, spend quite a bit of public cash travelling around the world lobbying foreign governments so they won’t pass laws that prohibit imports of dirty, high-carbon tar sands oil.

Here in Cancun we can expect the feds to form their policies and negotiating positions around the tar sands as well. After all, this is what they did last year at the UN negotiating session in Copenhagen.

Canada’s already won all three Fossil of the Day awards in the first day of negotiations (for blocking progress around the table) and I think we’re well on our way to sweep the podium throughout the next two weeks.

Our government brings nothing to the table but trouble, but at least the Canadian Youth Delegation has brought something to Cancun. We’ve set up a booth with information on the tar sands inside the conference centre, and we’re getting everyone who walks by to take some information and check out our online fact sheet.

If we can’t change our government’s policies on the tar sands, we will take away the international market for its dirty oil.

One Response to “Tar sands, the bane of my existence”
  1. Josie says:

    Great to hear that you are getting the word out there!! Anything you can do to let people know how terribly destructive the tar sands are is very worthwhile. All the best!

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