Tar sands leave us aghast and committed to clean energy path

Aerial tar sands mine and trucks credit David Hawkins.JPG

NRDC leadership returned late last week from the tar sands struck anew by the urgency of ending our addiction to fossil fuels and building a clean energy economy. What we all saw and smelt was that tar sands are as dirty as they sound.  We could save far more oil than tar sands expansion will produce, and create American jobs, by just switching over homes and businesses that use oil to cleaner fuels, and giving incentives to people who buy hybrid and plug-in hybrids cars.

We had spent several days in northern Alberta, Canada seeing with our own eyes the destructive tar sands strip mines and drilling sites and the beautiful but imperiled Peace-Athabasca Delta. I introduced the trip in an earlier blog and I also detailed the stress that the Peace-Athabasca Delta is under.

My colleague Liz Barratt-Brown told of our first day in the oil “war zone” that is the heart of tar sands extraction in northern Alberta and her continuing impressions as we travelled to Ft. Chipewyan and heard of the community’s struggle to make sense of their failing health and livelihoods.  

NRDC Board member Adam Albright said that he doesn’t usually blog, but was one of the first to send his impressions so strong was the urge to make sure others learned about the tar sands. Marianne Welch, an NRDC Global Leadership Council member who has worked for years on the heart-wrenching issue of Mountain Top Removal came away from the trip deeply discouraged by what she had witnessed and the many similarities to the devastation and suffering in Appalachia.

We heard from the residents of a town downstream from the Canadian tar sands mines have seen a 30% increase in cancer. Scientists have suggested a link to oil-related pollutants. In the U.S., the oil companies want to build yet another tar sands pipeline all the way from Canada to the Gulf and further feeding our addiction.  But we don’t have to travel down that path. We can cut our oil consumption by more than proposed tar sands expansion and create American jobs by requiring American car makers to build cars with double the gas mileage of our current gas-guzzlers and by transitioning responsibly to safe, clean fuels that will not run out like wind and solar.

NRDC executive director Peter Lehner concluded that the solution was to move off of our dependence on fossil fuels and into a clean energy future. This trip made us know that this move beyond oil is more urgent than ever.

Late night sunset in Delta June 2010 David Hawkins.JPG

About the Authors

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Senior Strategic Advisor

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