As a follow up to last week’s comparison of the big five oil companies, Shell has announced this week that it wants to increase its investment in Canada’s tar sands five-fold. This is something of a disaster for Canada, and for the rest of us too. The Athabascar tar sands are so staggeringly destructive that if you were to sit down and invent something that would speed up climate change as quickly as possible, you couldn’t do better – fell the trees, clear the peat bogs, steam the underlying sands to extract more oil for American cars, and replace the forests with toxic lakes and piles of sulphur.
Tar sands oil used to be too expensive to command serious attention, but with oil prices at $112 a barrel, the $30 a barrel extraction costs are suddenly worth paying.
Perhaps most dangerously, last year the tar sands sucked up billions of litres of fresh water. Water is short in Alberta, with farmers protesting that their lands are drying up, and hay prices have risen steeply. And yet, even in the middle of shortages, the oil companies pay nothing for the water they use. Currently tar sands projects use a quarter of all the fresh water in Alberta. By 2020, production is forecast to rise five times, which would presumably use every drop of fresh water in the province, and more besides.
It’s a crazy project, and I could go on. I won’t right now. Suffice to say that Canadian readers in particular need to take this very seriously – I’d recommend Greenpeace’s Stop the Tar Sands initiative for ideas about actions to take and people to write to, or the dedicated blogs Oil Sands Truth and STOP.
If I come across a good campaign aimed specifically at Shell, who ought to know better, I’ll let you know.