Tar Sands for the week (April 1, 2014).

The funny thing about the construction of “debates” where none ought to exist is how “normal” they can seem. The tar sands are far from an exception to this often rule that emerges from manufactured consent. Take just the basic tone of a few articles that have come out in the press recently, nothing at all new, as it regards the supposed “results” of another report turned into greenwash by industry. The story is basically the same as before: Doctors and people recount the obvious, the Alberta medical examiner reports attempt to exonerate the province and by extension, the tar sands.

There is nothing new here– but the underlying story, of course, is that this may make the tar sands a “good idea,” if only economically. Really?

Part of the issue is the notion that oil itself is an acceptable feature of the society if it can be extracted with minimal damage to the ecosystem and no immediate impacts on human health. But climate change negates that possibility, as does the destruction of water and the part of the discussion that must be omitted: Nations cannot exert their sovereign, treaty rights in Alberta to deny tar sands production that encroaches on their time immemorial rights to hunt, fish, trap etc.

That part of the debate cannot come out in a press that is currently doing mental gymnastics to demand that the sovereignty of Ukraine– and don’t look to western covert involvement– must be respected by Russia is that such international law concepts would also apply to Canada. So we cannot have a sovereignty “issue” inserted into the discussion around tar sands, so we’ll talk “consultation”.

However, this should be taken ever further into discussion of tar sands and the plans of the Harper Government, along with the United States, to promote North American imperialism via diluted bitumen. Just as tar sands need dilution, so too does an honest discussion of why tar sands are so important to the Harper Government.

The Calgary dominant Conservative Party is the bastard child of the first 35-odd years of the tar sands subsidized development; After Syncrude became an active, profit seeking conglomerate digging up tonnes of earth for barrels of oil, the Federal Liberal Parties from Trudeau through to Jean Chrétien built up the Athabasca Region through the protection that should be reserved for children, not ecocidal industries.

The decades of Federal Liberal subsidy created a new industry in embryo; The war on Iraq combined with the spike in oil prices related to the Katrina disaster to make this industry take off, and in so taking off create a newly ascendant Alberta ruling class with Calgary the financial Nexus and the Athabasca the home of transplanted labour to exploit. The political movement around this core group, today in Ottawa, is indeed a rigidly ideological right wing government, but it is also one that sees Canadian (aligned with US) Imperialism as the long term vision for this nation-state.

Today, destroyed by their Frankenstein’s Monster, the Liberal Party has been handed a free pass on the question of tar sands and more, often in peoples desperation to “Stop Harper,” but spending time in the US promoting tar sands development while using parliament to attack Venezuela lays bare the long term goals of Harper’s Government differ only in a matter of form, not content.

Tar sands are explicitly being held up as a means to Canada “helping” Ukraine over the Crimea, along with fracked gas. This matters tremendously: We have a right to connect the same dots that the Federal government is attempting. If tar sands and fracked gas are part of their plan to subdue resistance to global empire, those who seek a world without the destruction of fracking and tar sands can see the possibility of war contribution as destruction to further prevent.

Of course, the idea that “environmentalists” having a say in the acts of war is not likely to be taken on by our mainstream media, and has already been evidently tossed aside by even the New Democratic Party who have moved towards the tar sands and away from Latin American solidarity by edging closer to the foreign policy of the Federal ruling apparatus. But is it ridiculous?

Here’s another one of the little frames that has distorted view rather than elucidated it: Let’s talk about BP in Indiana. The refinery that BP (using illegally exploited foreign labour) converted to take on bitumen from Canada has rightly been condemned for a recent spill of multiple barrels of tar sands (diluted) bitumen mixed with condensate directly into the only exclusively American Great Lake.

I have a quibble: This is not news. Where, as in from what part of the refinery itself, it spilled is news. The fact it was unprocessed bitumen is a devastating bit of muck. The fact that this is a lake that provides fresh drinking water to huge populations, including the vast city of Chicago on the adjoining shoreline, is not news, either.

In the tar sands extraction and refining process to arrive at jet fuel or other “finished products” involves more than just the refinery– and there are two major areas that require large amounts of water use. In the plant/extraction of the bitumen from a mine in Alberta, the water is used to “help” separate the bitumen from the sands, clays and silts. After the water is toxified and cannot be used in this manner any longer, it goes into giant holding pens known to the common world as “tailings ponds.” They have different names, names that usually coincide with the name of the mine: Syncrude Aurora, Albian Sands, Suncor Steepbank, and so on.

Near Chicago, the holding tank for the waste water produced at the BP refinery– now at both dirtier and higher quantity amounts, thanks to tar sands extraction– has a name: Lake Michigan. The discharge pipes, pumping constantly and directly into the Lake, are visible while standing on the shore without venturing away from public areas. It’s not a secret; it’s just not mentioned as a scandal.

The waste water from the procedure is toxic; near the refinery are many signs warning people not to fish and eat the catch. My last time on the shoreline there I watched people ignoring the signage, even fishing not more than 20 feet from where the waste gunk was gushing into the lake.

Yes, it’s a tragedy that the spill happened, but its an ongoing one. Every operating refinery– both from the flares (usually being illegally operated) and the waste water– is by definition an on-going oil and gas spill. Into the water and into the air.

That kind of framework is not a possible debate point for the people who want to talk about how one report in Alberta undermined Dr. John O’Connor. Despite his own personal trials (never mentioned) and his reluctant embrace of any spotlight, O’Connor is portrayed as willfully denying reality to fit an agenda.

With the war mongering of Canada in so many spheres now, and the stark lack of honesty as to what the designs of oil and gas are really for in Fortress North America, we can see whose polemics are truly being skewed in the direction of power and greed, and whose are just basic truth tellers.

While many would have you believe that there are “disputes” about the true cost of tar sands, that is true– the costs we never hear from great lakes to great wars are yet further evidence of what it has become: The tar sands cannot be taken down from within the system, because the tar sands (along with oil and gas in general) are the system, the blood in the body of capitalism. This society has contracted sepsis from this toxic, black blood flowing the social fabric. We are near death from treating the initial problem incorrectly; without diagnosing the actual disease we are treating we may further increase the likelihood that it is terminal.


The human body runs with blood that is red;

The Earth’s body runs with blood that is blue.

Capitalism runs with blood that is black.


The red and the blue require one another to feed each other:

Black blood destroys that of blue and red, taking and never giving.

Two give life, and one takes it away.