“Secret” Report Reveals Cover-Up of Wildlife, Health Threats from Canada’s Tar Sands

Tailings pond north of Syncrude processing facility and upgrader (Courtesy of the Pembina Institute)
A Canadian government report labeled “secret”and withheld from public view outlines the extreme risk that oil development of the vast tar sands fields in Alberta poses to people and wildlife.

The presentation was obtained and released by Postmedia News, owner of several prominent newspapers in Canada.

At Risk: Caribou, Migratory Birds, Public Health, Climate

The report, prepared by Environment Canada, appears to be a smoking gun that removes any last doubt that the Canadian government has been hiding disturbing information about the environmental and health impacts of Canadian tar sands.

It comes on the heels of a public uprising in Canada against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to carry tar sands oil to Canada’s coast.

Canada recently announced a one-year delay in reviewing the pipeline in light of the public outcry.

National Wildlife magazine recently published an excellent feature on the wildlife impacts of mining tar sands to produce oil (tons of sand and many barrels of clean water are needed to produce one barrel of tar sands oil).

What is particularly disturbing about this secret report is that the oil industry’s super-sized influence with Prime Minister Harper and the Albertan government has apparently seeped deeply into the workings of Environment Canada, the government agency entrusted with “protecting the environment” and “conserving the country’s natural heritage.”

In the report, Environment Canada sums up its role in the tar sands debate as follows:

“Environment Canada’s objective is to provide assurance that the oil sands are being developed in an environmentally-responsible manner through discharging of legislative duties.”

Translation: Our job is to tell everyone that things are “OK” even though they are not.

Here are some of the findings of the secret report:

“Oil sands development will put pressure on vulnerable species (e.g., woodland caribou).”

Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada’s largest, is downstream from the oil sands, and is a major migratory bird site.”

“…emissions of air pollutants will increase with increased production. Increased emissions of SOx and NOx may put downwind lakes in Saskatchewan and Alberta at risk of acidification. Particulate matter identified as possible sources of toxins to river and landscape.”

“Between 1990 and 2008, overall oil sands GHG emissions increased by 242%….The oil sands are the fastest-growing source of GHGs [in Canada].”

“Contamination of the Athabasca River is a high-profile concern. Recent studies suggest elevated levels of pollutants near mining sites including hydrocarbons and heavy metals. Raises questions about the possible effects of health and wildlife on downstream communities.”

Read more about how tar sands impacts wildlife and the campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.