White Water, Black Gold

You can’t practice abstinence while running a brothel. Yet politicians of almost all stripes talk simultaneously about developing the Alberta oil sands while getting serous about reducing carbon emissions. Sound like a crock? It is.

Mitchell Anderson, It’s the Tar Sands, Stupid

It’s not just the carbon emissions from the tar sands that are polluting our ecosystem and making our children’s future more precarious. The amount of fresh water contaminated by the Alberta tar sands boggles the mind.  The tailings pond (where 90% of the fresh water used ends up) are large enough to be seen from outer space. Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year.  White Water, Black Gold follows adventure filmmaker David Lavallee on his three-year quest across Western Canada for the truth about the impact of world’s thirstiest, and dirtiest, oil industry:

This is a journey of jarring contrasts, from the pristine mountain ice fields that are the source of the industry’s water, to the Tar Sands tailing ponds, where thousands of migrating birds have unwittingly landed and died.

Both government and industry spokespeople deny any cause for concern, but in the course of his journey Lavallee, backed by university scientists, makes a number of discoveries that challenge that assessment and raise serious concerns for Canada and the United States.

Native peoples living downstream are contracting unusual cancers; new science shows that water resources in an era of climate change will be increasingly scarce; the proposed upgrading of the oilfields could endanger multiple river systems across Canada that makeup about half of its water supply; and a planned oil pipeline across British Columbia brings fresh threats to rivers, salmon and the Pacific Ocean.


This Saturday, June 18th, is  International Stop The Tar Sands Day, where events are taking place in front of Canadian embassies around the world to shine light on the terrible price the tar sands extract from our planet and the people living around it.  In anticipation of International Stop The Tar Sands Day, The Winnipeg Chapter of the Council of Canadians has organized a screening of White Water, Black Gold this Thursday, June 16, at 7 pm at the Unitarian Church, 603 Wellington Crescent.  Admission is by donation. I’ll see you there!

More links:

International Stop The Tar Sands Day

Tar Sands Vs. Clean Water: Eating the Earth For Cars

David Lavallee

The Pembina Institute: Water Impacts of Oil Sands

It’s The Tar Sands, Stupid

Water We Thinking?

Sorry for the bad pun – my excuse is that today is World Water Day!

Consider all the ways you used water today. If you live in North America, by now  you will have probably flushed a toilet a few times, had a shower, run a tap, and drunk one or more glasses of it.  In my part of the world, I’ve walked on a frozen form of water, snow, as I brought my garbage to the road, and when I go to town later on I might walk on the frozen lake.

It’s easy for those of us who just need to turn on a tap to get water to take it for granted, yet water is an amazing substance.  It is the only substance on earth that is found naturally in three different forms – liquid, gas (water vapour), and solid (ice and snow).  All living things depend on water to support life.  And yet, almost all of the water on earth is not useable because it’s salty ocean water.

Earth has been called the “blue planet” because so much of it is covered with water.  But almost all of the water on this “blue planet” isn’t drinkable because it’s too salty.  To give you an idea of how much water on earth there is that humans and other living beings can use, try this demo at home.  Fill up a one liter container with water.  Then, take 30 milliliters (about 2 tablespoons) out of that one liter container and put it in a small bowl.  This represents how much fresh water there is on earth.  Pour salt into the water left in the one liter container – this is now like most of the water on earth, too salty for humans to use.  Next, take a teaspoon out of the bowl of “fresh water” and place it in another small container.  That teaspoon represents the amount of the world’s fresh water that is not frozen – about 0.6% of the total water on earth.  But not even all of this water is on the surface – take an eyedropper, and take out one drop of water from the teaspoon.  This one drop represents the clean, fresh water on earth that is not polluted, frozen, or underground!

As you can see, if all beings depend on water for life, and only a very small percentage of water on earth is available to use, then it is important that the precious “drop” of water is used wisely so all 6.6 billion people on earth, as well as all the other living creatures, have water to drink and use!

My family and I are lucky to live on a lake in northern Ontario, and our community is surrounded by  lots of lakes and rivers.  Yet, in northern Canada there are over 100 First Nations communities that lack access to clean potable water and adequate sanitation.  And in Alberta, the tar sands are consuming fresh water from the Athabasca River at an alarming rate;  it takes 3 – 5 barrels of fresh water to produce one barrel of tar sands oil. The toxic tailing ponds that result are so large they can be seen from outer space, and First Nation communities downstream of tar sands operation have been experiencing unprecedented rates of bile and colon cancer, lupus and other diseased that they believe are attributable to tar sands.  What are we thinking when we use up this precious resource like there’s no tomorrow?


More links:

We All Live On The Water

Water Matters: Speak Up For Clean Water and Air In Alberta’s Oil Sands Region

Boiling Point: Profiles 6 Canadian First Nation Communities facing a water crisis.