Nature Canada

Birds Benefit from Tar Sands Project Delays

The economic turmoil roiling the world markets is creating one silver lining, at least from a bird conservation point of view: Energy companies are cutting back or delaying projects in the Canadian oil sands.

All the big players, including Suncor, Encana and Royal Dutch Shell, have reduced their plans — and it’s not just the plummeting price of oil. From Bloomberg News:

U.S. policies that discourage fuel purchases from heavy- polluting sources are further reducing incentives to exploit oil sands. The crude creates three times more greenhouse gases than conventional wells, and a U.S. law enacted in December bans federal agencies from buying fuels that cause more emissions than alternatives.

Oil-sands mines along the Athabasca River near Fort McMurray,
Alberta, can be 80 meters (262 feet) deep and claimed almost 500 square kilometers (311 square miles) of forest. They have created bitumen and clay-laden ponds with an oily sheen of grays and green hues that have killed scores of birds.

In fact, nearly a dozen tailings ponds line both sides of the Athabasca River and pose a serious threat to the entire Mackenzie River basin. Many are already leaking and creating their own tainted wetlands. The ponds, which contain a thick mix of water, oil and clay, give off a strong aroma of hydrocarbons and rarely freeze. Fish, birds and other wildlife face death from swimming in or drinking from the ponds.

Human communities are also at risk from the tar sands operations. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers reports that of 25 chemicals found in every tailings pond and studied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 14 are human carcinogens.

It’s time to put the brakes on what we know is the dirtiest form of oil on the planet.


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