Tar Sands Fighters to U.S. News Media: WAKE UP!

Cross-posted from the Understory.

Over the past decade, as oil prices have risen ever higher, oil companies have begun a massive – and massively destructive – project of tearing Canada’s boreal forest to pieces, in order to get at a layer of sand that contains 10% oil. To get the oil out, they need three barrels of natural gas for every barrel of oil produced. The process creates vast lakes of polluted water – which already cover 50 square miles – that areseeping into the groundwater and rivers, poisoning Indigenous communities; already, thousands of ducks have died after landing in these wastewater lakes. The wreckage from this horribly destructive process already covers 500 square miles – but the area earmarked for future destruction is the size of Florida. Protests of Indigenous peoples are being ignored. Politicians are redirecting money from clean energy projects to finance tar sands research. And all this is happening in our friendly neighbor to the north, Canada – and U.S. oil companies are raking in huge profits from tar sands oil, and are pumping the world’s dirtiest oil from Alberta straight to your gas tank.

Sounds like a pretty important news story, right?


The Canadians obviously think so. When RAN hung a banner outside Royal Bank of Canada’s headquarters six weeks ago – only one of countless protests against the tar sands that have taken place in Canada in recent years – the protest was covered by Bloomberg, the National Post, the Toronto Sun, theCalgary Herald, and the Vancouver Sun. Search for “oil sands” on the Toronto Globe and Mail‘s website, and you’ll find over 4,000 articles.

The British also think so. In London recently, five Indigenous Canadian activists joined the UK Climate Camp, to protest British corporations’ involvement in the Alberta tar sands. The protests that these activists organized against British companies that fund the tar sands made news across the country, with reports by the Guardian, the BBC, the Daily Telegraph, and the Times. But this was by no means the first time the tar sands were reported on in the UK: the Guardian did a detailed investigative report on the tar sands over a year ago.

And even… the Norwegians think so. In Norway, the tar sands have become a prime election issue: the opposition Liberal Party is attacking the government for allowing the state-owned oil company, Statoil, to invest in Canada’s tar sands. All you Norwegian-speaking readers out there can check out an editorial by Aftenposten, Norway’s biggest newspaper, denouncing Statoil’s investments in Canadian “oljesandprosjekter” (that’s “oil sands projects”). Skandaløs!

But in the U.S. corporate media? Radio silence.

This is especially ridiculous, given that U.S. corporations are far more involved in the tar sands than their British (or Norwegian) counterparts. Chevron and ExxonMobil have invested a total of over $10 billion in Alberta tar sands projects – Chevron is the majority owner of the 85,000-acre Ells River tar sands project, while Exxon’s subsidiary, Imperial Oil, owns 465,000 acres of “quality oil sands leases.” Citigroup is the biggest tar sands investor outside Canada, with $5.9 billion invested in Canadian tar sands companies since 2007 alone. And oil companies across the U.S. are building pipelines and retooling refineries to be able to process oil from Canada’s tar sands: a new pipeline from Alberta to Wisconsin, capable of pumping 450,000 barrels per day of Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in the Midwest, was recently approved by the Obama administration. And Chevron has been fighting against community activists for years to be able to “upgrade” its refinery in Richmond, California, so that it can process tar sands oil.


The Canadian tar sands aren’t a Canadian problem. They’re a massive project in which U.S. corporations are intimately involved, and hugely implicated.

And yet – with a few notable exceptions, like a recent article in the New York Times – the U.S. news media has ignored the issue. And thus, most Americans know nothing about the fact that the world’s dirtiest oil is being put into their gas tanks.

Next week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is visiting Washington to meet with President Obama. Harper is as conservative as they come – a lot of Canadians call him “Bush Light” – and is a strong supporter of the tar sands. One of his biggest priorities in coming to the U.S. is to ensure that new climate legislation being written in Washington doesn’t prevent the tar sands oil from continuing to flow to his southern neighbor.

And the Obama administration has signalled that it’s willing to play ball: in June, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told oil industry executives at the Reuters Global Energy Summit that he believes that the “environmental issues” facing the tar sands would be overcome through technological advancements, stating that “I’m a big believer in technology.”

As Harper tries next week to sneak the world’s dirtiest oil into the U.S., will the U.S. news media report on it? Or will they look the other way, like they have until now?

2 Responses to “Tar Sands Fighters to U.S. News Media: WAKE UP!”

  1. 1 Carlita-Canadianista Sep 16th, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Thanks for this great article. Many of my Canadian friends and family are fed up with the tar sands, the environmental destruction and the lack of leadership on climate change by our government. We had high hopes for the Obama administration and how it might influence our own horrible government. The more days that go by, the more glaring is the business-as-usual that continues to characterize our government’s approach to climate change and the tar sands. We need the consumers of this oil to speak up!!! Please Americans, if you are as against this oil as we are, tell your government and pressure for real solutions to climate change!

  2. 2 R. J Black Sep 18th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Your attempts to paint the oil sands as an ecological disaster of biblical proportions is a tired argument and honestly holds very little value. The coal industry in the United States pollutes ten times more than the oil sands of Alberta.

    Canada contributes a whopping 2% of carbon emissions on a global scale and the carbon footprint of the oil sands is less than one tenth of one percent globally. The issue of how Alberta deals with its oil reserves is Alberta’s issue, not the US government or any foreign government’s problem period.

    The land reclamation projects at Syncrude and Suncor are benchmarks on the world stage and recovery of tailing ponds into functional ecosystems has been demonstrated beyond reproach and continues with millions invested into continual research on technological improvements addressing the recovery.

    However, with that stated, any large industrial mega projects irrelevant of location will have an impact on the environment and issues will arise and problems become apparent. The Alberta oil sands contribute tens of billions of dollars into the Canadian economy affording Provinces less fortunate to have medical and social services through Federal transfer payments, without this money Canada could ill afford to offer universal services to “have not Provinces”.

    Green energy such as wind farms only provides electricity and the average wind farm is responsible for the death of thirty thousand birds annually flying into the propellers generating the “green power”.

    The failure to have propane cannons set up at Syncrude was unfortunate and animals suffered because of it, but what are the wind farms doing to lower the mortality rate of wildlife?

    If I choose to pick targets and attack alternative energy sources or conventional resources it is uncomplicated to do so finding fault is simple, solutions require time.

    Alberta is not perfect and the United States is one of the largest polluters in the world with less than 3% of the world’s population, people in glasshouses should not throw stones. The demand for energy is high and until an alternative energy source is developed, we will need and use oil and by-products that is a simple fact.

    Alberta has made it very clear, if America wishes to have a secure energy supply from a friend; they are here for us and will continue to work on innovative carbon capture methods and lands recovery. China and India two very large emerging economies also want Alberta’s oil and China is investing in Alberta to increase their supply.

    The gateway project will be built and these markets will be exported to, that is just a basic fact, either way the oil sands are here to stay and there are far larger markets than the United States were demand is insatiable for oil and Alberta will continue to sell to meet the demand.

    The doom and gloom sells papers, Alberta’s oil sands employ hundreds of thousands of people with families and mortgages, and you are advocating the destruction of people’s lives offering no real solution or alternative. The people of Alberta are strong, independent, educated and understand the problems they face in oil sands development. Unlike the sky is falling climate change fraudsters, they are addressing the issue with solutions and research.

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