by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Shhh...this is Canada, so it's all a big secret, but not a big deal
Day after day, week after week, they have died…for the last six weeks, in Cold Lake Alberta, oil has been leaking from oil extraction procedures and killing wildlife at a time when it is, in the forests, lakes, beaver ponds and muskeg of that northern region, at its most abundant. This is when loons, mergansers, common goldeneyes, geese and other waterbirds have their young out of their nests, when fish hatch, when young muskrat, mink, otter and beaver first venture forth into what was once a pristine environment.
For at least the last six or seven weeks, according to a Toronto Star investigation, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., has failed to stop an underground oil blowout now contaminating the region. The paper claims to have documents showing that some 26,000 barrels of bitumen mixed with water has been removed. A photo shows what appears to be a dead merganser…hard to tell because it’s coated in oil, but the region is full of them at this time of year, and their broods of downy youngsters. (See: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/07/19/nobody_understands_ongoing_spills_at_alberta_oilsands_operation.html).
On July 18 the Alberta Energy Regulator confirmed there were four spills in recent months. These spills reportedly derive from “in situ” extraction, which does not cause the obvious surface damage of the more infamous Alberta oil sands. Instead of stripping off the top of the land, white-hot steam is injected at high pressure into hard bitumen, liquefying it, and forcing it through cracks to be pumped to containers, except when things go wrong, as they have at Cold Lake. Unlike the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill of 2010, still killing animals, there is no way to cap or turn off the source of the Cold Lake oil spills, according to Keith Stewart, an energy analyst for Greenpeace, who teaches the subject at the University of Toronto.
The Toronto Star quotes a scientist, remaining anonymous out of fear for his or her job, saying “Everybody is freaking out about this. We don’t understand what happened. Nobody really understands how to stop it from leaking, or if they do they haven’t put the measures into place.
In part things are exacerbated by the fact that it is “off limits” to the public and media, as part of where the Canadian military tests weapons.
Duh…so how come Canadian Natural Resources is allowed in? Talk about your military-industrial complex, but one that operates under a government that equates environmentalists with terrorists and is by far the most secretive government Canada has had in my entire life. Even First Nations people have been kept out.
Of course the company while “…saddened that unfortunately some animal fatalities occurred between the time of the incident and the deployment of our animal deterrent systems…” has given the usual platitudes to the effect that everything is under control, and that “All the (animal) fatalities have been reported to the Alberta Energy Regulator.” What “animal deterrent systems”? How do you deter a fledgling white-throated sparrow or deer fawn from sipping toxic water, or a northern watersnake from swimming through it? And believe me, most animals don’t conveniently die in plain view, especially in the dense complexity of a muskeg habitat. For every one “reported” an unknown number quietly expire unseen, and unlamented, but we know they are there.
But apart from all that, if everything is so wonderfully under control, let the media, independent scientists and First Nations people (whose ancestors are buried in part of the region, for heaven’s sake) in to see for themselves. Don’t tell us not to worry; show us!