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Canada's booming oil industry raises environmental concerns

21st November 2013
Penny Olmos

Penny Olmos is a writer for Holloway Houston, Inc. and loves to write on wire rope slings ( Her writing is backed by knowledge gained by her many years of experience partnering with clients to build their business through development and implementation of track-proven internet marketing strategies.

21st November 2013
Canada's tar sands have yielded considerable economic benefits to the country, but every economic opportunity in the industry brings with it certain environment challenges, says writer Penny Olmos
Canada's booming oil industry raises environmental concerns
Leveraging the economic benefits of tar sands and taking note of and managing the environmental concerns arising out Canada's oil sands business is crucial

The tar sands of Alberta, Canada are expected to contain more oil than what the entire world has consumed till date. Canada has the third largest oil reserves in the world with Venezuela and Saudi Arabia topping this list. More importantly, oil exports are central to the good health of Canada's economy. These oil sands reportedly have the wherewithal to drive the Canadian economy for another three decades and the projected economic benefits will total USD 2.1 trillion or more.


An assessment released by the governments of Ontario and Quebechas some staggering figures. It says that out of the 900,000 jobs that the oil sands industry is expected to create by 2035, more than 100,000 of these jobs will be created outside of Alberta. So, the benefits of the oil sands empowered economy is set to trickle down to all provinces of Canada rather than just the one where all the extraction is taking place.


Any country would give an arm and a leg to experience all the economic benefits that these oil sands bring to the table, and Canada should be rightly proud of its tar sands. However, every economic opportunity brings with it certain environment challenges. The oil sands economy of Canada is no different. There is a need to do a tightrope walk between leveraging the economic benefits of tar sands and taking note of and managing the environmental concerns arising out of this opportunity. 


The environmental challenge
Extracting oil from oil sands is an exercise that entails several environmental challenges. The process of extracting oil from tar sands, a process known as fracking, does pose an environmental risk. These and many environmental red flags should be of concern to oil companies drilling for oil, the people living around the area where this extraction process is taking place, and also the government in charge of crafting policies that will help control environmental pollution in the area.


Oil companies must understand if they do not take these environmental concerns seriously, it can severely impact the further development of oil sands and the profits accrued from developing these oil sands.


As a result, it makes sense for all stakeholders to understand these risks and take steps to mitigate them. 


Let's take a look at some of the environmental challenges.


Air pollution
A recent study released by the University of California Irvine and the University of Michigan found that air in and around the Fork Saskatchewan area, located downwind of the oil sands of Alberta has carcinogenic pollutants.  Health records of this area, obtained by researchers covering a 10-year period illustrated some of the health risks posed by the oil sands industry.


This study essentially provides insights into how pollution is affecting the health of people living in the path of the plumes emanating from what is known as Alberta’s pot of black gold.


While the severity of the health risk posed by such air pollution is up for debate, it makes sense for oil companies to recognize this risk and put in place effective mitigation strategies.



The fauna's getting affected as well
North of the oil sands lies Lake Athabasca. A study has measured the mercury levels in water terns and gulls in the area; results show an increase in mercury levels beyond the accepted 0.5 per million threshold, which means there is a chance of these mercury levels impacting the wild life, such as bird species.



While the study confirms increased levels of mercury in the eggs of some bird species, it doesn't confirm the reasons for this mercury contamination. This is an ongoing study, but at the end of the study, researchers are pretty sure they will be able to identify the exact source of mercury contamination and whether activity in the oil sands has anything to do with it.


These are just some of the many environmental red flags that the booming oil sands industry has to contend with. While there is no doubt these red flags shouldn't stop the production of oil (this is simply not an option), there is also no doubt that something needs to be done. Stricter policies, bigger penalties and a conscious effort to restrict the environmental damage should be the order of the day.


With very little knowledge about the larger impact of oils sands production on the environment, there is very little clarity on the scope of the environmental damage we might have to face. This is why there must be a conscious and sustainable effort on part of all stakeholders to come up with action plans that help mitigate the environmental risks posed by the oil sands industry. Tempering these environmental risks can set the stage for sustainable economic benefits.