Canada caught on its own tar baby. Tar sand investments now a dead duck?

Canada caught on its own tar baby. Tar sand investments now a dead duck?

Summary: As one Canadian newspaper put it. Ducks in Alberta died a crude death.

TOPICS: Banking

As one Canadian newspaper put it. Ducks in Alberta died a crude death. One of the species of ducks that died on a pond filled with crude oil polluted water: Bufflehead. Here's a picture of a gorgeous male Bufflehead in fine fettle. bufflehead-8240.jpg Photo by Len Blumin.

Most of the ducks who died in the tar sands "tailings pond" sank beneath the surface. "Tailings pond" is oil industry terminology for a large body of water polluted with crude oil. These ponds are just one of the many, necessary environmental costs of removing crude oil from Canada's tar sands.

This story of the dead ducks in Alberta is not happy news for Big Oil and its political supporters. Just this week Alberta officials were in Washington D.C. trying to stop any U.S. law that might prevent Canada from exporting its oil sand products to this country. Canada is now the #1 oil importer to the U.S. Here's how one Canadian paper described this week's events: "The timing couldn't be worse for the Alberta government, which wrapped up a mission to Washington yesterday aimed at promoting the province as having environmentally responsible policies in the oil sands. "At the same time, the province faced a renewed barrage of questions about its plan to spend $25-million on a public-relations campaign designed partly to dispel myths about the oil sands. 'Twenty-five million dollars is well spent in ensuring that we protect the integrity of this province,' [Alberta's Province] Premier Ed Stelmach told the legislature. "The incident is also a blow to the image of Syncrude, which produces about 350,000 barrels per day from the oil sands, but has never had an incident like this."

That last sentence may be a bit ingenuous. We don't know of any previous incidents. This one was apparently NOT reported by the company either but a tipster and perhaps some company employees upset at the dead ducks informed the provincial government. It may never be known how many ducks died as it's unlikely they can drain the pond to recover the bodies. And dead ducks will not float to the surface of a oil-laden pond. FOLLOW THE MONEY

The extraction of crude oil from Canada's tar sands is a classic case of market forces vs. environmental concerns. Sometimes both sides can be compromised and "progress" and profit can roll ahead. This does not seem to be true in this situation. Here's the environmental cost of tar sand extraction according to one Canadian website: "It also destroys the land. Huge areas of the boreal forest ecosystem have been felled and the underlying peat bogs cleared away to expose the sands. At the end of the processing there is nothing but a ‘toxic moonscape’ of earthworks, ponds, and 80 foot high piles of pure sulphur. 5,000 hectares have been destroyed already, and David Schindler of the University of Alberta estimates that in ten years time they will have cleared an area the size of Florida."

Think of this as strip mining for oil. With lots of big, polluted ponds and sulphurous hillocks left behind after the oil companies have collected their profits and we've all enjoyed the gasoline use.

If political timing was bad for Alberta and Canada's oiled politicians, it's even worse for Syncrude. The dead ducks may cost them a $1 million fine, in valuable Canadian dollars. Worse yet, tar sand mining is expensive work. Constant capital is needed, along with willing buyers of the oil output. Just this week it looked like one of their competitiors in the tar sands world was going to get a huge investment from European oil giant, Total. How costly to mine the crude oil in Canada? Estimates are as high as $25 per barrel extraction costs, compared to about $1 in traditional oil fields like Texas or Saudi. With crude now around $120 per barrel, depending on the global market forces, $25 becomes a steep but potentially economically-wise investment. CANADA HAS BEEN HERE BEFORE

The dead duck debacle resonates across Canada where seal slaughter has been an on-going battle for decades between the seal fur business and animal lovers. Now it looks like years of protest and lobbying is beginning to hurt the seal fur business as imports of such products from Canada are being outlawed by several countries. Result: prices for Canadian seal furs are dropping annually. Don't expect prices for Canadian oil, regardless of its source, to diminish. The global oil market doesn't care about the ecological, political or human costs of the oil supply. Even if the U.S. banned crude or products from Canada's oil sands, the stuff would be shipped to China at some minimal loss of profit.

Both the tar sands and the seal fur industry are microcosms of the on-going battle between the Milton Friedman school of economics and environmental preservationists. Between free market supporters and those who think perhaps a duck is worth more than a barrel of crude. Between those who see the planet as a source of resource and profit, and those who see humans as part of the earth with the power and responsibility to not destroy. Between those who worry about global warming or species extinctions, and the Social Darwinist approach: let the ducks beware. Who needs a Bufflehead anyway?

Topic: Banking

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  • Editing.

    There are many spelling errors and a missing link at the bottom of this article.
    • Editing

      No there aren't.
  • Oil is messy

    This is story is why China will become an even bigger superpower.

    Everything with them is a business transaction. They don't ask any questions and don't expect any lies in return.

    America, on the other had, thinks everyone is entitled to an SUV, but on the other hand constantly frets about where the oil is coming from.

    Well wise up. Oil is a dirty business politically and environmentally. It was like that 100 years ago, and it will be even worse 50 years from now.

    If you are really worried about ducks, you can always buy the oil elsewhere... lol
  • RE: Canada caught on its own tar baby. Tar sand investments now a dead duck?

    "Tar baby" is now officially a racist term, you know.
    • Tar Baby is NOT "officially" a racist term

      "Officially"? Where'd you get that? Anyway -- look it up, Vesicant. You don't want to go around with your ignorance hanging out like that! In contemporary usage, the term [i]tar baby[/i] refers to any "sticky situation" that is only aggravated by efforts to solve it.
      • no, it's not inherently a racist term

        But it has been used as a racist term quite a lot, and I would probably avoid using it when publishing, just to avoid the issue.
  • RE: Canada caught on its own tar baby. Tar sand investments now a dead duc

    "5,000 hectares have been destroyed already, and David Schindler of the University of Alberta estimates that in ten years time they will have cleared an area the size of Florida"

    5000 hectares so far?? that is a little bit over 19 square miles.. How long have they been at it?? answer 40+ years, since 1967 !!

    That's a long way from the area of florida (58,664 sq. miles).(Claimed projection of cleared area in ten years.)

    Someone is using faulty math to make a wildly false argument.

    according to wikipedia..

    All of Athabasca Oil Sands combined are nearly the size of florida.. There is no possible way for humans to mine a field of that size in ten years.

    It would take several hundred years to accomplish that feat.
    • With crude oil at $120 per barrel

      There's unlimited desire to mine the sands and no limit to the cheap labor that could be imported to help with the work...all it takes is capital. When crude was a mere $50 or $60 the sands were too expensive to draw much investment, but now, the sky-high price is the limit, let's roll!
  • Wow. What a biased story.

    Not hard to figure out on which side of the fence the author sits, is it?

    Here's an idea: why not just report the facts, and let us come to our own conclusions?

    I have to laugh at how the Greenies have gotten themselves all tied up in knots. We need more energy! Okay, how about drilling for more oil? Can't do that--might piss off a caribou. Okay, how about drilling offshore? Can't do that--might spill some oil in the ocean. Okay, how about nukes? You're kidding, right? Okay, how about windmill farms? Can't do that anywhere near where I live, it spoils my view. Okay, how about tar sands? Can't do that, we need to dig big holes to get to it. Besides, it might kill a few ducks.
    • you're kidding right ?

      I know this article might seem to show only one side to the story, but environmentaly, there is only one side to the tar sands, and it's a very ugly side. The good side of the tar sands is economics. It's the main reason that Canada hasn't followed the US in the financial crisis it is facing, and it is bringing money to a province that used to be fairly poor. That money is used for better education and health services.
      But it's not an economics article, it's an environmental one. And it barely scratches the surface: the fresh water wasted and the contribution to global warming (the oil has to be steamed out of the sand), fragile and rare ecosystems that are bulldozed.
      If you see an environmental upside to the tar sands, please let me know.

      Milder winters maybe?
  • RE: Canada caught on its own tar baby. Tar sand investments now a dead duc

    Riredale: You need to sit there and watch the drowning. It might give you a good idea of what is in store for our species if we keep up our stupid, careless arrogance vis-a-vis the environment. I doubt though, that it would give you any insight or wisdom. Rigid-minded greed masquerading as practicality -- the world has seen your like before.
  • RE: Canada caught on its own tar baby. Tar sand investments now a dead duc

    No there aren't.
  • RE: Canada caught on its own tar baby. Tar sand investments now a dead duck?

    Perhaps you could tell me when ZDNet became a trusted and well researched source of envirnmental 'news'. Did you report on Al Gore draining a resevoir to float his canoe for a campaign ad? There is certainly no news here to Canadians. We've been struggling with the problem for decades. Stick to emerging technologies and computer geek stuff please. We'll just do our best to feed your SUVs.
    Ordinary Fellow@...
    • Follow the dots, please

      Every tinme something happens tht ffects the future or price of mainstream stream energy it directly affects what happens with VC money and clean tech, sorry that chain of relations is too abstruse for some readers...when or if oil hits $200 per barrel it will increase even more the interest in cleantech from oil-eating micro-orgniams to making methane from your sewage to actually saving energy using software to control grid load...follow the money, always...this is America, money is numero uno
  • RE: Canada caught on its own tar baby. Tar sand investments now a dead duc

    good info... they are trying to expand out bringing there toxic chemicals across great distances and pollute the Northern america.

    I am in North Dakota and we have a group SOS save our soil... and it is to have keystone whom would be transporting the tar oil... move there pipe away from our water sources... if any help or info please find contact on the website I put about...
    our contacts will be on there... please help .. what is in the tar sand when they would be shipping it though keystone... we know it must be of temperature 80-100 degrees farhenheit. thick stuff what is the chemical substances???
    Corey A.M. Bergsrud
  • RE: Canada caught on its own tar baby. Tar sand investments now a dead duc

    Seal hunting and tar sands are not to be ecologically comparable. Tar sands affect and destroy the environment. Seal hunting (a traditional way of life for Newfoundland and Iles-de-la-Madeleine) can be seen (scientifically) as part of an ecological system, permitting the preservation of fish (e.g.: cod). Seals are proliferating (in hundreds of thousands) and are not an endangered species. The difference between the killing of a seal and of the beef for your hamburger is not in the impact on the animal, but on the human who sees it...
    Georges Madore