Canadian tar sands are not just about turning Alberta’s boreal forest into a wasteland.
Transport of the product has many dangers, ill-effects.


They haul their giant equipment around the world disrupting the roadside environment to dig tar sands in Alberta, turning hundreds of square miles into lifeless pits. Ah, but they produce oil!  They call it Syncrude. Every barrel undermines efforts to develop clean energy because Syncrude’s system is probably the dirtiest energy system on the planet.

They transport the artificial oil from Alberta to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma using the Keystone Pipeline. Of course, it won’t surprise anyone to hear it leaks. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shut the pipeline down this month because of leaks in North Dakota and Kansas. Despite continuing problems with the existing pipeline, there is a bigger and badder sibling on the the way — Keystone XL — unless Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blocks it. Worried Republicans want to have the Tar Sands Pipeline Fast-Tracked.  Manitoba is helping Canada block the efforts of its oil province, Alberta, by setting up a two million acre Heart of the Boreal Forest” reserve.

The pipeline’s direct danger is to U.S. agriculture, prairie wetlands, and the drinking water of six states. It crosses the huge Ogallala aquifer and poses a special danger to the Nebraska sandhills.

Politically the Koch Brothers are thought to have a big stake in the Keystone XL, but they have stonewalled congressional inquiry efforts through their proxies. Reports after the 2010 elections indicate these fabulously rich rightwingers now “own” the critical House Energy and Commerce Committee. Koch Bros. Accused of Stonewalling Congress on Their Keystone XL Pipeline Interest. Reuters.

More generally the development of the tar sands shows the pernicious effects of developing more and more marginal sources of fossil fuels. Each barrel of  “oil” produced costs more energy to make — net energy is less than older, now depleted sources. Negative externalities (spillover effects on innocent “bystanders”) are greater than older sources. The spillover effects generate political opposition from those harmed. The industry that wants to continue passing on the costs of its production to the environment and bystanders grows more aggressive and hostile in order to force its way.

Those folks in Idaho and Montana struggling to save their roads, rivers, and communities from the tar sands giant are just part of many people struggling against the worst kind of corporate-right wing-purchased government policy.

Con. Oil Sands: The Costs of Alberta’s “Black Gold”. Worldwatch Institute

Pro. Syncrude Oil Sand Mine, Alberta, Canada. Mining


About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

One Response to The other end of the tar sands monstrosity. The Keystone Pipeline

  1. DB says:

    Thanks for posting on this subject, Ralph, and for recognizing the hard work done by the rural people of north Idaho.


June 2011


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey