Canada’s oil sands boom for business, bust for environment

We have seen our energy future, and it’s very, very dirty. By some estimates, the oil sands of northern Alberta, Canada, contain 175 billion barrels of crude, reserves second only to Saudi Arabia’s. Problem is, getting usable oil out of the tarry, sticky sand requires clearing vast swaths of forest, burning tons of natural gas, polluting millions of gallons of water, and spewing untold amounts of greenhouse gases. It is, says environmental policy analyst Dan Woynillowicz, “a form of oil extraction where the intensity of environmental impacts is at an order of magnitude greater than any other form of oil extraction we have seen on the planet.” Until recently, the high cost of extracting oil from tar sands made the undertaking a financial loser, but rising oil prices have this fledgling industry booming. Resistance is futile, says Canada’s environment minister, Stéphane Dion: “There is no environmental minister on earth who can stop the oil from coming out of the sand, because the money is too big.”