CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 41 . . . . June 24, 2011
You can change the name of the Canadian Tar Sands to "Oil Sands," and you can claim that the oil taken from here is "ethical" oil, but the bottom line, if you live down river from the tar sand projects, you are being poisoned and no one seems to really care.
Film maker, Lawrence Carota takes a scathing look at the impact of oil production especially as it affects the community of Fort Chipewyan which is down river on Lake Athabasca.
Crude Sacrifice opens with the presentation of several deformed fish. Those interviewed recall how, when they were young, they were able to drink the water directly from the Athabasca, but would not do so now. Fishing has sustained them for generations, but they are being told that a heavy diet of fish from the lake would not be healthy. Their traditional way of life may be disappearing forever.
Three barrels of water are required to extract one barrel of oil. Legally, the oil producers are able to dump 300 kg of toxins into the water system daily. A study from the University of Waterloo has determined that the containment dikes have been leaking for decades. The release of waste into the system is monitored, but the monitoring has been privatized or is to be done by the companies themselves. The question is asked, "If self-monitoring wouldn't work to prevent speeding on the highway, how could it work here?" Crude Sacrifice shows that it is not working and blames the situation on politics and the fact that no one wants to discuss this problem.
When Doctor John O'Connor first arrived in Fort Chipewyan, he was taken by the high rate of cancer in his patients. Because no studies had been done, he had no base number to show the increase. He asked Health Canada to look into the cancer rates and after ten years, nothing was done. The community decided to do its own study. For his efforts, Dr. O'Connor was put under investigation and accused by Health Canada of causing "undue alarm and a mistrust of government."
The forests have been removed; the air is filled with acrid smoke; the dust is a "suite of hydrocarbons and heavy metals." The snow is grey, and, when it melts, the contaminants find their way to the rivers and streams. Community elders talk about the changes and how things are not good. Fish exceed the allowed mercury levels. Moose meat is contaminated as well. More people are sick. Birth defects, immune system attacks, cancers are common. The young people "can't continue to eat fish." The old way of living is not safe anymore.
In a scene from the Alberta Legislature, when asked if the water is contaminated, the answer given is, "Extensive testing [is] going on...[there is] no impact on water quality." This is despite a study by the University of Alberta which found "10 to 50 fold greater concentration of Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds (PAC) in Athabasca River tributaries impacted by recent tar sand development."
The Canadian and Alberta governments make billions of dollars from the Tar Sands. Oil companies are posting "the largest profits ever recorded by any corporation in history." There has still not been a base line established for cancer cases. The Alberta government "continues to deny the existence of toxic chemicals in the Athabasca River as a result of Tar Sands development." Dr. O'Connor remains under investigation and has since moved to Nova Scotia. No interviews from the government were granted.
Crude Sacrifice is a difficult film to watch. The injustices revealed and the inaction on the part of both provincial and federal governments are enraging. One speaker, early in the film, says, "We must tell lies to each other to maintain our way of life." Recent news of an oil spill in the area and past news of the thousands of ducks that died on tailings ponds show that the environment is not being adequately protected. For the people of Fort Chipewyan, their health, life style and traditions seem to mean nothing.
Clearly, this film is one-sided, but this side is not getting the publicity it needs. This story has to be told. Crude Sacrifice could be used in any class dealing with Ethics and the Environment, Geography, Economics, Politics and Health. The beauty of the area is shown as is the devastation to the former forests to serve the oil industry. How this oil production could be seen as "ethical" in any way is mind-boggling.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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