The Toronto Star has an editorial on "the scary oil sands" and the massive problem they pose.
Canadians' concerns over Alberta oil-sands development centre largely around its impact on climate change.
And for good reason. In a list of 207 nations ranked by greenhouse gas emissions, Alberta's oil sands come out higher than 145 of them.
And that comparison is based on 2007 emissions. Under its proposed "intensity" caps to fight global warming, the Harper government predicts a near doubling in oil-sand emissions by 2020.
But as a study released last week by the advocacy group Environmental Defence shows, the dangers posed by the tar sands go far beyond climate change. The most frightening is the leaching of toxins into the region's water supplies, which the study terms "a giant slow-motion oil spill."
After one study found that moose meat in the region could contain 453 times acceptable levels of arsenic, the Alberta government produced its own study showing arsenic to be "only" 17 to 33 times the acceptable levels. So tainted are fish in the area that some First Nations have reported that "fish frying in a pan smell like burning plastic."
The study, Canada's Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth, goes on to discuss the massive tailing ponds containing a poisonous mixture of water and oil that result from the oil extraction process. It says they constitute "a megadisaster waiting to happen to the region's water supplies." Already covering more than 50 square kilometres, these lakes of toxic soup are held back only by earthen dikes, one of which rivals China's Three Gorges as the largest dam on the planet. Quoting David Schindler, one of the world's top water scientists, the study warns: "If any of those tailing ponds were ever to breach and discharge into the river, the world would forever forget about the Exxon Valdez."
Clearly released to stir debate in the provincial election campaign underway in Alberta, the frightening findings in this study also need to be addressed by federal parties as they gear up for a spring election.