2014-02-07 / Community

Group strives to educate locals on tar sands

Sean P. Milligan
Contributing Writer


Carolyn Graney and Rachel Burger of Protect South Portland and Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resource Council of Maine pre sented the projected impacts of tar sands being shipped into South Portland from Canada. The presentation was the second to last of a nine city, two country tour put on by activism group 350 Maine. (Sean P. Mulligan photo) Carolyn Graney and Rachel Burger of Protect South Portland and Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resource Council of Maine pre sented the projected impacts of tar sands being shipped into South Portland from Canada. The presentation was the second to last of a nine city, two country tour put on by activism group 350 Maine. (Sean P. Mulligan photo) PORTLAND -- Activist group 350 Maine presented “Tar Sands Exposed,” a speaking tour that traveled through New England and Canada between Jan 24 and Feb 1. The group of speakers stopped at USM’s Hannaford Hall on Friday. They aimed to raise awareness of the impacts of bituminous oil, more commonly known as tar sands, on the environment and the indigenous people of Alberta, Canada where tar sands is extracted.

Activists Sarah Lachance and Bob Klotz, both of 350 Maine, began the night by giving thanks to many of those involved with the Protect South Portland movement before introducing the speakers.

“The folks in in South Portland that helped raise the voice around the issue of tar sands,” said Lachance. “It’s been an amazing opportunity and honor to work with the people of South Portland, watch that community come together and work so hard to stop the reversal of the pipeline.”

Speakers at the event included Garth Lenz, activist and nature photographer, Eriel Deranger, activist and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and Dylan Voorhees of Natural Resource Council of Maine.

After Lenz displayed his work, outlining the visible changes that tar sands extraction has had on northern Alberta, Deranger spoke of the devastation that is occurring on land promised to the First Nations when Treaty 8 was passed in Canada.

The treaty was signed in 1899 between Queen Victoria of England and several leaders of the First Nations of the Slave Lake region of Canada. Part of the 324,325 square miles of Alberta, Saskatoon, and British Columbia encompass the area currently used for bituminous oil mining, infringing on the intent of the 115 year-old document. The Chipewyan people are currently entrenched in a lawsuit with Shell Oil over the matter.

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producer’s site OilSandsToday.org, 1,700 aboriginal people are employed in the extraction and production of oil sands. In addition, the company has contributed more than $8 million to native owned companies involved with the industry.

The organization also reiterates that “current evidence on water quality impacts on the Athabasca River system suggest that oil sands development activities are not a current threat to aquatic ecosystem viability,” and that “There is currently no credible evidence of environmental contaminant exposures from oil sands reaching Fort Chipweyan at levels expected to cause elevated human cancer rates.”

These claims come despite statistics from the Canadian government’s First Nations Health Status report of 2013. According to the report, from 2007 to 2011, crude live birth rates of First Nations people in Alberta decreased from 34.9 per 1,000 people to 28.7.

According to the report, “First Nations in Alberta have significantly lower survival than non-First Nations across all time periods (age groups).”

Voorhees, the clean energy director for the Natural Resource Council of Maine, explained that bituminous oil is more car- bon rich than other petroleum products and has a stronger effect on greenhouse gas emissions. He also told of the possible effects of a spill stemming from the Portland Montreal pipeline. The pipeline crosses the Crooked River, which is part of the Sebago Lake watershed.

“The undisputed fact is that tar sands contributes significantly more towards climate changing carbon pollution per barrel of oil or per gallon of usable gasoline than conventional oil,” said Voorhees.

The presentation coincidentally took place on the same day the U.S. State Dept. released its environmental impact report of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would stretch from Alberta, through the Midwestern United States, to the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama has aid he would give the project a green light if the State Dept. found that the environmental impact would be reasonable.

The report claimed that although over 800,000 barrels of crude oil would be transported through America’s heartland tar sands oil would still be extracted at the same rate from Alberta. The project now awaits the president’s approval pending Secretary of State John Kerry’s recommendation.

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