Up in Canada, in what once was a pristine boreal forest in Alberta, there is a growing environmental catastrophe. The large-scale strip mining of “tar sands” or oil sands has been going on up there since 1967, and by January of this year had torn up 715 square kilometers of forest land. The area to be strip mined could ultimately be the size of 78 Manhattan Islands, or six entire NYC’s.
Everything about the production of tar sands oil is destructive and polluting on a massive scale. It is this heavy bitumen oil mined and drilled out of Alberta that is meant to be shipped down the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast of the United States. Conservationists oppose the pipeline because it is likely to increase the size and production of the Alberta tar sands which will increase the already large climate change impact such oil production has, not to mention destroying more land and polluting more water and air.
Now it seems there are plans to pipe more of this tar sands oil to a dock in Superior, WI, and some of it would then be shipped across Lake Superior and to refineries along the coasts of the Great Lakes. But a new report from the Alliance for the Great Lakes states that protections against tar sands oil spills are not adequate. Nor are the oil tankers and Great Lakes ports able to properly and safely move and receive such oil. Tar sands oil does not float on the surface of water when spilled: it sinks, making it much more difficult to clean up. And, unlike the oceans over which most oil is shipped, the Great Lakes are a major source of drinking water. An oil pipeline whose condition is questionable already carries tar sands oil beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
We should oppose this shipping plan for the same reason we should oppose the Keystone pipeline and the expansion of the Alberta tar sands themselves: they would promote and prolong vast destruction and vast pollution, while potentially creating a major spill on land and water that could cause catastrophic damage. We should be weaning ourselves from such oil, not increasing and encouraging its production.