Yesterday in Edmonton, Dr. Jeff Wells told an audience at the University of Alberta that scientists have an obligation to give the public an honest appraisal of the costs of tar sands oil development. Jeff was referring to the new report by NRDC, BSI and the Pembina Institute on the impact of tar sands oil development on birds in Canada's Boreal.
And indeed, without information based on the best available science, how else can the true costs of tar sands oil development be taken into account in what should be a public discourse about the future of a risky and environmentally destructive business.
The international implications of tar sands oil extraction are growing - and the latest information about the loss of as many as 166 million birds over the next 3-5 decades has global implications. Both Canada and the United States have international and domestic legal obligations to protect migratory birds. The report Danger in the Nursery shows that migratory birds are not being protected as required by law and this will make tar sands oil development an even riskier business.
Further, greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands don't look as though they will be curbed anytime soon - in fact recent notes that the press in Canada got from the Canadian government about carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) potential in the tar sands stated that CCS would likely only take care of a small part of the global warming pollution problem. This inability to curb global warming pollution coming at a time when the United States is moving towards greenhouse gas emissions regulation is not good for the tar sands. It makes their business riskier - their investment return more uncertain.
The growing risk of tar sands oil development has many implications in the United States. New and expanding pipelines and refineries are in the works to take additional tar sands oil in the U.S. Midwest and beyond. These regions in the United States are tying their environmental health to an industry that is very polluting. Moreover, they are tying their economic health to an industry that has growing costs and liabilities with which it needs to deal. The U.S. Midwest, Gulf Coast and Rockies should be asking if it is wise to build excess capacity in a time where the rate of expansion in the tar sands is potentially at risk?
When will the Alberta government realize that it does its people and the tar sands oil companies no favors by not finding solutions in the tar patch? Alberta needs to call a halt to new projects and figure out how to deal with the mess already made of its Boreal forest and wetlands.