Highway to Hell and the Roads Along the Way (Part 2 of 2)

This post is the second in a series. Click here to read Part I.

A Nightmare that will haunt us all

For those who do not live close enough to the tar sands to see the immediate impacts, the tar sands still have an effect on you. How? The tar sands present a major source of pollution that will only further exacerbate global warming. Being such an ‘unconventional’ and ‘unique’ oil (aka: dirty oil), the tar sands emit three to five times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil. A recent study by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center revealed that the tar sands project has higher emissions than 97 nations combined.

This is not a sustainable project and the Canadian government is merely turning a blind eye to the consequences its actions. Sadly, the US is the largest consumer of the tar sands oil as 60% of tar sands oil is sent to the US.
The U.S. Department of State is currently going through the permitting process for the latest and largest tar sands pipeline. TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline would move up to 900,000 barrels of tar sands oil daily from Alberta, Canada to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast, traversing 2,000 miles through rivers, farmland and forests from Montana to Texas. Unless we stop it, this pipeline would effectively open the entire U.S. market and international markets to this environmentally damaging and costly high-carbon fuel.

Hard-hitting impacts on local communities

What has this done to the local communities? With all boom & bust situations like this, local communities are hit hard with social ills from the sudden influx of miners and workers inundating the area. The tar sands are no different. Alberta has the highest school dropout and divorce rates in Canada. Sadly, Alberta women suffer the highest level of spousal abuse in Canada. Drug use has also risen exponentially since before the project began. Approximately $7 million worth of cocaine now travels up Highway 63 to the tar sands region every week. In fact, roughly 40% of all tar sands workers test positive for cocaine and marijuana use. Local drug stores can’t keep enough urine cleansing products on their shelves due to workers fearing a random drug test. As a result, a black market for clean urine has developed.

The social ills, cultural consequences and environmental impacts are having an irreparable effect on the land and the indigenous way of life. The tar sands project is a living curse that grows larger and larger every day.

Monstrous Machinery

Such a monstrous project requires monstrous machinery. Being so grand in scale, the project requires massive machines like those that are seen in the movie Avatar. In fact, the trucks from the tar sands have to be specifically designed for the project. They are the largest power shovels and dump trucks in the world, capable of hauling 400 ton loads. Each truck burns roughly 50 gallons of diesel fuel an hour.

Activist and Executive Director of Honor the Earth Winona LaDuke stands in front of one of the monstrous loads of machinery.

Tar sands machinery has been manufactured in Korea, shipped across the Ocean, shipped through the Columbia River (Washington & Oregon) and is now traveling from Port Lewiston, Idaho through Montana and eventually shipments will travel all the way to northern Alberta. Paid for by ExxonMobil’s subsidiary, Imperial Oil, these shipments will cross through some of America’s most beautiful and scenic highways, national historic trails, tribal reservations and other places with both historic and current value.

These are no ordinary shipments. These are behemoth-sized loads. To give you an idea, some of these loads will roughly be the size of the Statue of Liberty on its side. For Howard Hughes fans out there, the shipments will be 9 feet longer than the Spruce Goose airplane. They will weigh up to 300 tons and require 90 tires, 24 axles and two trucks attached to the rear to help push it along. American roads have never seen loads this big. There is no classification for shipments like this and it has forced agencies to look at ‘special permits.’ Roads have been modified, turnouts have been created and the loads are now traveling from 5 to 30 mph in the middle of the night to avoid affecting traffic. Traffic has been affected and cars have been stuck sitting behind these trucks for hours at a time. Traveling down these mountains and narrow roads, one of the loads even scraped up against the side of a mountain and skidded against the rocks. These loads are a disaster waiting to happen and Governor Otter of Idaho thinks so too. In fact, Otter is demanding $10 million in bonds from Imperial Oil in case an accident does occur.
Sign the petition at All Against the Haul protesting the shipments.

Stand up for the Nez Perce peoples

The Nez Perce peoples pray the $10 million is not necessary. Crossing over nearly 70 miles of the Nez Perce reservation, tribal members have been working to stop the loads. After seeing through a number of candy-coated lies presented by Imperial Oil, the tribe has passed a resolution against the shipments in July 2010. Unfortunately, Imperial Oil is pushing through anyway. Working to protect their land, health and safety, the Nez Perce are seeking a number of venues to safeguard its people from the hazards presented by these loads .

Beginning with tarry mud in Northern Alberta, the destruction of First Nations homelands, the contamination of the Boreal forest and the transportation of loads of unheard sizes, the tar sands are pure destruction. The First Nations of Alberta deserve better. The Nez Perce deserve better. We all deserve better.

Don’t stand by. Take action now.