One of the biggest land based oil spills in North American History occurred last week in the heart of Canada's oil country
By now, most politically conscious North Americans have heard of the Alberta Tar Sands to some degree. Perhaps it’s because Tar Sands extraction is the fastest growing source of Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution. Perhaps it’s because you’ve heard about the Keystone XL Pipeline and the protests it has reaped.
The $1.2 trillion tar sands is one of the dirtiest sources of fuel on the planet and it has given Alberta and Canada a black eye among environmentalists for years. We all know, that in order for Climate Change to have a lessened impact on our society, most of it has to stay in the ground.
Unfortunately capitalism stops for no one these days, and the only time climate change is really mentioned in our media is when disaster strikes. Climate Change is mentioned in passing when discussing the California Drought for example, or possibly a hurricane or another record setting warm year.
People often see the consequences of climate change in catastrophes such as these, however they never see the physical source. It’s rare for a disaster to occur right next to where the source of the carbon pollution takes place.
Last week, just 35 Kilometers southeast of Fort McMurray, Alberta’s major tar sands hub, A breach in a double-walled pipe spilled five million litres (31,000 barrels) of oil emulsion. It is the largest oil spill in Alberta in 35 years and one of the biggest land based spills in North American history.
The company responsible for the leak is Nexen Energy, a Chinese subsidiary company. Nexen apologized Friday and said its crews were working around the clock to clean up the mixture of bitumen, water and sand. Same old story really; we’re sorry, we’ll clean it up right away. Basically the same thing you’d hear from a waitress who just spilled wine on your new suit. I’m sure the apology is sincere, but the damage is already done.
One can see why this oil spill, as big as it was, did not receive the media attention and public scrutiny it deserves. There were no injuries, it did not contaminate any bodies of water and the spill was confined to about 170,000 square feet.
Still, this Alberta oil spill covered four acres of land before it was noticed and it appears as if the breach in the pipe was only the size of a human hand. To put this spill into perspective, the recent oil spill near Santa Barbara, California received far more media coverage (thanks only to its location), but was less than one tenth the size.
I understand it only becomes news if someone dies or a major source of drinking water suddenly becomes undrinkable, but that’s the whole problem with Climate Change media coverage in the first place. If we can’t talk about climate change, fossil fuels or the dangers of its transportation when a pipeline ruptures in the middle of Albertan oil country, when can we?
The fact of the matter is it will happen again, and again, and again. Sometimes it will happen in an inhabited neighborhood, sometimes in a lake or river, sometimes in an empty field. Regardless of the ground it falls on, it deserves more than a mere mention from Canadian media outlets and it merits at least a mere mention from American ones.
“This leak is also a good reminder that Alberta has a long way to go to address its pipeline problems, and that communities have good reasons to fear having more built” – Greenpeace spokesman Peter Louwe