This used to be a vast Canadian forest, until the petroleum giants discovered the world’s third-largest oil field lay beneath it
Through the blur of the Cessna’s propeller I can see a vast forest stretching to the horizon – two million square miles at the top of the northern hemisphere that’s home to 140, 000 species of plants, wildlife, insects and micro-organisms.
The Canadian forest in Alberta is second only to the Amazon in size. It’s critical in absorbing the Earth’s mounting deposits of carbon dioxide and carbon. Over 500 Indian tribes have lived and hunted here for thousands of years.
Suddenly a smell of sulphur begins to infuse the cockpit. Abruptly, the trees stop – where once stood towering spruce and conifer are now lifeless sand dunes. Then the landscape turns a sickly black, like a giant, dark bruise spreading over the planet.
This is ‘Tarmageddon’ – the devastation wreaked by the search for tar sand – and here, deep below the forest floor, is the third-largest oil field in the world: 173 billion barrels of recoverable oil. ‘I’m always blown away by how immense this place is,’ says the pilot.
Giant trucks, as tall as three-storey buildings, labour across the blackened landscape below, plundering sand full of bitumen from strip mines.
A line of trees stands near the mines, waiting to be culled as the mine spreads. Tall chimneys bleed waste-burning gases into the atmosphere.
It takes two tons of tar sand to produce just one barrel of oil, which is then refined into petroleum.
Around 1.6 million barrels of oil are produced a day here. The oil companies, with British support, hope to increase that seven-fold in coming years.
But according to environmentalists and some British politicians, this is the dirtiest oil anywhere in the world. Up to five barrels of water are needed to extract every barrel of oil.
Worse still, a gallon of petrol produced from tar sands releases 20 per cent more carbon dioxide than conventional oil.
Recently, the European Union tried to label the tar sands as a dirty fuel because of the increased emissions, but amid intense lobbying from the Canadian government and oil companies the vote ended in stalemate.
The plane banks left as we fly over an oil-production facility bordering the Athabasca River, which flows north to the Arctic.
A number of pipes flow into earth-banked tailing ponds, which contain the highly toxic byproducts of the extraction process. The ponds cover more than 30 square miles.
Locals claim that evaporation from the ponds results in acid rain and that the toxins seep into water supplies.
Up Highway 63, busy with heavy industrial traffic, it’s a four-hour drive from the teeming oil boom town of Fort McMurray to the small town of Lac La Biche.
Here, Crystal Lameman, a Beaver Lake Cree Indian and activist, is fighting to save her community from encroaching oil companies.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Britain’s Daily Mail website: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2155344/Oil-firms-controversial-exploitation-Canadas-wilderness-locals-say-dying-pollution.html