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A Problem Of Tar Sands In Canada

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The Alberta tar sands are a very contentious subject not only in Canada, but all over the world. Many journalists, activists, and politicians have different perceptions on the tars sands and how they affect Canada and the rest of the world. Award winning Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk offers an insightful look into the many negative effects of the Alberta tar sands. In his essay, “Tarmageddon: Dirty oil is turning canada into a corrupt petro state”, Nikiforuk effectively addresses the detrimental effects the Alberta tar sands have on the environment as well as Canada’s economic and political character. The most controversial effect that arises from the tar sands are its negative impacts upon the environment.

Many skeptics argue that the tar sands pose no threat to the environment, however, Nikiforuk believes that the most pressing issue that arises from the tar sands are the negative impacts upon the environment. Nikiforuk’s critical analysis of the tar sands shines a light upon the fact that the tar sands “pollute the global atmosphere with 40 megatons of greenhouse gases per year” (Henderson and Nikiforuk, 189). The Alberta tar sands emits almost as much carbon as the country of Norway. While oil is extracted in Norway, it is done so in a much more eco-friendly way. Their greenhouse gas emissions per barrel are 8-19 kilograms whereas Canada’s emissions per barrel are 22-417 kilograms higher than Norway (Henderson and Nikiforuk, 188). Not only do the tar sands pollute the air with carbon, they also pollute the water and land around them. Through the process of mining, processing, and refining the bitumen from the tar sands, many different toxic waste chemicals are dumped into massive unlined dykes called tar ponds. Because they are unlined, toxins like acids, benzene, arsenic, cyanide, and polycyclic aromatic toxins seep into the neighboring rivers, lakes, and streams. This pollutes the water that is home to many forms of life which in turn, destroys our ecosystem. By looking at the tar sands from an environmental aspect, Nikiforuk was able to effectively make his case that the tar sands have detrimental effects. The environmental impacts caused from the tar sands and their operations, are by far the most significant of the impacts the tar sands have because the environment is the foundation of life. Without it, nothing can prosper. Through Nikiforuk’s critical analysis of the tar sands, it becomes apparent that the negative impacts that the tar sands have on the environment far outweigh the potential economic advantages.

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Nikiforuk further analyzes the Alberta tar sands through the perspective of the economic disadvantages they have on Canada’s economy. Many argue that the Alberta tar sands are the foundation of Canada’s economy, however, Nikiforuk suggests that the tar sands are no longer a profitable industry. Nikiforuk states that “Alberta’s profit from a $60 barrel of oil is 30 cents” (Henderson and Nikiforuk, 189). Through this, Nikiforuk illustrates that the profit margin of each barrel of oil produced through the tar sands is minimal. Canada’s economy cannot rely on such a minimal return on investment for the future. Furthermore, as the energy industry looks to cleaner, more environmentally friendly alternatives, the demand for oil will sharply decrease in the near future. Thus, making the Alberta tar sands significantly less reliable for a central foundation to Canada’s economy. Moreover, Nikiforuk states that “the tar sands have devalued industries such as textile mills, electronics, fabricated metal, and paper” (Henderson and Nikiforuk, 190). Nikiforuk’s statement illustrates the fact that not only do the tar sands have a small profit margin, they also cause other key industries in Canada to fail. Industries that have been have a dominant force to Canada’s economy such as paper and fabricated metals have been crippled by the tar sands development. By looking at the tar sands from an economic perspective, Nikiforuk was able to effectively make his case that the tar sands pose negative threats to Canada. Nikiforuk’s analysis highlights the fact that Canada should shift its central economic focus away from the tar sands and into an industry that has economic potential in the future. Not only do the tar sands have a negative effect on Canada’s economy, they also have a negative effect on their political character.

While Nikiforuk highlights the pressing issues that the tar sands pose to the environmental and economic integrity of Canada, he emphasises the negative impacts the tar sands have tupon Canada’s political character. Nikiforuk believes that since the introduction of the tar sands, the Canada’s political reputation has been tarnished. In his essay, “Tarmageddon”, he states that “Canada is the only signatory of the Kyoto protocol to abandon its targets for emissions” (Henderson and Nikiforuk, 189). Canada, once a distinguished global leader in the fight against climate change, now lacks any form of climate change policy. The tar sands have lead Canada to drop any form of policy that is directly opposed to factors that harm the environment. In recent years, it has been found that the tar sands are no longer a profitable industry for Canada, yet, ex-Prime Minister Stephen Harper continued to finance and support the Alberta tar sands. According to Nikiforuk, Harper, “a bona-fide climate change skeptic-if not an outright denier” (Henderson and Nikiforuk, 189), has lead Canada to become a laughing stock on the political stage. The poor political choices that the government has made in order to support that the tar sands have left Canada’s political character diminished and tarnished or any prior reputation. Nikiforuk’s analysis of political impacts of the tar sands makes it evident that immediate action must be taken to reverse the effects. In order for Canada to regain its credibility on the international stage, it must devise a strategic plan to combat its immense emission rates.

Overall, Nikiforuk’s essay, “Tarmageddon”, raises important issues that arise as a result of the tar sands project. Nikiforuk critically analyzes the tar sands through environmental, economical, and political perspectives, looking at the negative impacts that the tar sands cause. The tar sands have left Canada in a state of trouble and dependency. Immediate action must be taken against the Alberta tar sands project if Canada has any wishes of regaining its political reputation, clean environment, and financial success.


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