Canadian tar sands becoming top oil source, despite environmental harm

With conventional oil reserves declining around the world, all eyes are turning to Canada, where tar sands in the north contain 175 billion barrels of proven oil reserves — almost in the neighborhood of Saudi Arabia’s 262 billion and far more than the Arctic Refuge’s 10 billion. Getting saleable oil from tar sands is an expensive and environmentally devastating process involving strip mining, burning the oil off the slag with natural gas, and refining the resulting heavy oil into lighter oil. But with oil hovering above $50 a barrel, tar-sand oil is looking more attractive to many; China, for instance, is aggressively making investments and deals with the Canucks. There are protests from the indigenous communities whose land is being used for mining or pipelines, and from environmentalists horrified by the intensive production of greenhouse gases. “But there is no minister of the environment on earth who can stop this from going forward, because there is too much money in it,” said Stephane Dion, Canada’s, uh, minister of the environment.