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Alberta Tar Sands to Poison U.S. Great Lakes Region, Too

By Stacy Feldman

Oct 17, 2008

An environmental catastrophe is underway in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada -- home to the most energy-intensive and dirtiest industrial enterprise on Earth. And it’s about to infect the Great Lakes Basin and the US Midwest, too.

That's according to an excellent new report out of the University of Toronto, (pdf).

Here's the short of what happened. Demand for the sticky, dirty-to-extract crude of the tar sands (called bitumen) soared. The sector exploded. The pressure to develop kept mounting, with no political will to curb it, despite the serious climate and financial risks involved.

That triggered the need/greed for more capacity out of the tar sands and into the destination markets of the US Midwest. And it led to this idea. The building of a continent-wide network of pipelines, some thousands of miles long, to transport the crude, as well as refinery expansions on the US side of the Great Lakes to process the raw goo into gas.

It's a massive infrastructure change, the advent of a whole new fossil fuel supply chain, or a "pollution delivery system," as the author calls it. And it's well on its way.

We are already well into the development of a continent-wide industrial supply chain – a pollution delivery system – that could cause irreversible damage to the Great Lakes. Pipeline and refinery expansion applications are being made and approved right now with little general awareness of the potential long-term damage to the Great Lakes environment.

In fact, author David Israelson says that 17 major refinery expansions are now either "being considered, planned, applied for, approved or developed in and around the Great Lakes."

The expected CO2 impact of it all? Prepare to cringe:

The cumulative effect of this pollution delivery system may bring to the centre of North America an additional 2.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year – and this is a conservative estimate.

That’s 500,000 cars-worth of tailpipe emissions each year. On top of that, the Great Lakes region can expect

new, large-scale sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions -- the building blocks of acid rain -- as well as fine particulate matter, which is responsible for premature deaths.

...If the great challenge of the 21st century is to figure out how to wean society off oil, this is the diametric opposite of the way to go about it.

And then there are the millions of liters of water per day that the refineries could end up sucking out of the most important fresh water resource in the world, or spitting back polluted.

Refining (and upgrading crude) oil requires almost unimaginable amounts of water – water to move the crude, dilute it, mix and process it. Much of the water used is either never returned to its source or returned, but severely degraded by pollutants.

The tar sands are an environmental disaster for Canada and the planet already. And only about two percent of the initial established resource has been produced. Have a look at the estimated future climate impact of the mines, courtesy of a recent report of the World Wildlife Fund and the Co-operative Bank Insurance Investments:

If Canadian oil sands development continues to expand at the pace currently desired by the industry, the production and use of the fuel would account for 87 percent of the maximum emissions from OECD countries in 2050 under a 450ppm stabilization pathway. (450 parts per million is the level of carbon emissions scientists believe the world must stabilize to in order to avoid catastrophic consequences, although currently scientific thinking suggest that much lower concentrations are necessary to avoid calamity.)

And now the Great Lakes Basin, too? The new pollution delivery system could wipe out a decades-long effort to clean up the lakes, not to mention the climate progress in surrounding US states.

What to do? Killing the project entirely is not a realistic option, sadly. But regulation is. As such, the author offers two "logical places" to start:

The topic you are writing

The topic you are writing about is very interesting. Thanks.

nice post

while there is no pollution to environment and population affect everything is ok, if you use certain sumbstante or exploitation of harmful materials should be banned


Well, I am so excited that I have found this your post because I have been searching for some information about Great Lakes poison almost three hours. You helped me a lot indeed and reading this your article I have found many new and useful information about this subject.

greenhouse gas

great article, it is important that we can find some quality web sites which present objective opinions about the negative consequences of the activity of profit orientation companies...

Asses to Kick?

Congress seems a likely target for Obama given the fact that environmental laws and agencies are so loosely regulated that false assurances from BP are not subject to FTC laws which govern deceptive practices by corporations trained to ignore laws of our nation which don't apply to them.

It's possible that the entire problem can be reduced to lack of sufficiency in regulatory schemes to prevent disasters and using "ass kicking" as the measure of deterrence rather than actual proactive deterrence by providing suitable and appropriate application of laws to all to provide the real deterrent required.

Ranting and raving over the spilled milk (oil) is not a suitable response that can measure up to appropriate oversight and regulation meant to prevent them in the first place, assuming the spills are unnecessary. If they are necessary, must America be such a sap?

Oil extraction is so

Oil extraction is so expensive to achieve, it's hard to view this as the future of our energy needs.


It's harder and harder for people to think about the day when they'll leave Earth and go into eternity. Probably, because it's a sad feeling they do not care at all about pollution and how our succesors will manage to breath in 200 years.

They all say it's crap, but I don't agree: it's obvious that we've done so many on this planet that we managed to produce some damage. It takes Earth arond 2000 years to remove what we've done...that time will come! Be convinced!

PS: Ever thought that GOD is actually NATURE?

Alberta Tar Sands

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, January 19, 2009 (ENS) - The exploitation of tar sands in Canada, the world's largest proven oil reserves outside Saudi Arabia, is damaging forests and wetland habitats in forests Canada's northern boreal, new research shows. The oil sands development could claim more than 160 million birds boreal, peer-reviewed study predicts.

We need to explore domestic

We need to explore domestic oil opportunities ASAP. Democrats whine about Republicans not having a health plan or stalling on health reform and this is EXACTLY how you can characterize their efforts to improve our domestic oil reserves and oil supply.

US Great Lakes

Extraction and refining heavy oil from Canadian tar sands will have increasingly devastating impacts on migratory bird populations, according to a new study.

Sad but as i said before it's all about the money! Nothing else matters for them

As in the previous section,

As in the previous section, coal and oil, but the concentration of carbon from the atmosphere could decrease, and therefore global temperatures through the roof, thank you very much. By \ "roof \" I think 6 degrees Celsius (9.5 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial (~ 1880) level. And what is behind the roof? Maybe a desert, where bacteria and cockroaches can live only if it referred to new desert Amazon

Great information

Actually the more human on earth we can't keep up with the global pollution. The more people on earth the harder we tackle the environmental issue :(

Re: Alberta Tar Sands to Poison U.S. Great Lakes Region, Too

A captain needs to be able to make decisions even when contrary to expert opinion without fear of jail time. He also needs support and his crew needs passive safety measures. The reason an environmental catastrophe has not occurred in Newcastle is the same reason the 100% of the passengers were able to abandon the “Empress of the North”, the ship’s double hull, an expensive but invaluable passive feature. However, self motivation can be a problem for a lot of people. There's a big self motivation literature industry, book by the thousands, tips on how to motivate yourself and be a success in whatever you do. A large section of this industry uses internet marketing and makes money online selling eBooks on all kinds of strategies. Some people even get personal loans to download whole salaries. Some good motivation tips - try to do something that you're passionate about. Setting a schedule is good, especially if you work from home. You can get debt relief with enough self motivation.

Sustainable development

Production of solar heat collectors and solar panels for electricity production generated massive industry in Germany. Very sustainable and there to stay for years to come. Also this gave Germans the partial energy independence from Russia and other world oli producers. This process is still in progress and will continue on.
Lets learn from a good example. Give tax incentives for each KWH of electricity installed and sold to grid. The money will take care of the money and that will solve the rest of the problem. Aldough lenghty but powerfull and benefiting us all as humans. Also travel to your own countries for instant Atlantic Canada PEI, where sustainable development takes place. It makes a lot of sense. Love PEI North Rustico Cavendish. There you can live as once we were used to be able to.

Agreed, the rest of the

Agreed, the rest of the world should take Germany as an example.

We have no choice. America

We have no choice. America needs oil. America must turn back to the dirty industrial age to survive. Or else china is going to come anc harm us all.

We most certainly do have choice.

You are listening the disinformation campaign and being fooled by it.
Wake up! What you are saying is totally at odds with current wisdom.
Do some research. Read the energy plans of Google, Repower America, SetAmericaFree and Climate Progress. It's all very doable with current technology. Survival is exactly the reason we must turn away from fossil fuels. NOW. We can easily replace all our coal plants with renewable energy by 2030. Solar thermal alone can do this.
What you are saying is an example of how disinformed, uninformed and misinformed the American public is. And it's the fossil fuel industry who is spending big to misinform you.

Fallatious Title

The title is incredibly misleading. The article is written by a PR person, NOT a scientist. There is no way oilsand production pollution, which is obviously terrible, can enter the Great Lakes watershed. Just have a look for yourself. Alberta is within either the Hudson's Bay or MacKenzie watersheds (Arctic Ocean!).

You might want to read the

You might want to read the article at National Geographic about the great Boreal Forest of Canada and how critical it is to much of the ecosystem of North American including watersheds. Between the destruction of the Boreal Forest to make paper towels, toilet paper, Pampers, retail and wholesale catalogues; and the devestation from the Tar Sands, we could be in big trouble. The Boreal Forest is one of the biggest carbon sinks on earth. It's home or breeding or feeding ground for over half the bird species in North America.

We should legalize industrial hemp in America, and start displacing some of the wood based paper making with hemp paper. It would save millions of trees every year, and is much more sustainable.

The Environmental Defense Fund calls the Canadian tar sands the most destructive project on earth.

Don't care

Everything is about profit profit profit, even the developed nations they are not willing to cut the green house emission, what a shame.

Man-Made Pollution Delivery System

The pollution of the Great Lakes region from Alberta's tar sands would not occur via the watersheds, but through the expansion of oil industry infrastructure that is breaking through natural barriers.

The report says "We are already well into the development of a continent-wide industrial supply chain – a pollution delivery system – that could cause irreversible damage to the Great Lakes."

What do you think of that idea, even though it was not written by a scientist?

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