Over 100 arrested as tar sands civil disobedience spreads to Canada

Source: mongabay.com

by Jeremy Hance

September 27, 2011 - After two weeks of sustained protesting at the US White House against the Keystone XL pipeline, with 1,252 people arrested, civil disobedience has now spread to Canada, home of the tar sands. Yesterday, around 500 people protested in Ottawa against Canada's controversial tar sands; 117 were arrested as they purposefully crossed a barrier separating them from the House of Commons in an act of civil disobedience.

One of those arrested, Maude Barlow, chairperson of the environmental NGO Council of Canadians, told the Inter Press Service that "If a government refuses to represent the people, then there is little choice but civil disobedience."

Canada's Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver responded to protestors by saying they were 'extremists' and out to 'kill Canadian jobs'.

The tar sands, dubbed by the industry as 'oilsands', is vociferously supported by Canada's conservative government under Stephen Harper, who has been pushing the US to accept the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline would bring tar sands oil through six US States to refineries in Texas, crossing one of the US's most important freshwater sources, the Ogallala Aquifer.

Last month US activists staged a two week-long protest at the White House against the Keystone XL Pipeline and are planning another action in early November.

The tar sands has become a target for activists because it has a significantly higher carbon output than normal sources of oil. The Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) estimated the greenhouse gas emissions of the tar sands was 5-15 percent higher than conventional sources, while the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that emissions were 20 percent higher.

Renowned climatologist, James Hansen, raised awareness of the issue when he wrote that if the tar sands are exploited along with coal reserves "it is essentially game over" for the climate.

But Oliver says critics are making the tar sands out to be worse than they are. According to Oliver, the industry accounts for 0.1 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, adding "you wouldn't know that listening to some of the rhetoric, but those are the facts."

Still, Oliver neglected to mention that the tar sands are expected to scuttle the country's pledge to cut emissions. According to an analysis by the Canada's environmental agency, rising tar sand carbon emissions are set to offset any progress made on decreasing Canadian greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors, causing Canada to fall far short of its pledge by 17 percent by 2020 (with 2005 emissions as a base), an emissions target already seen as mild at best by environmentalists.

Extracting oil is not just carbon-intensive but water-intensive as well: the oil—which exists in the form of bitumen and is mixed with clay, water, and sand—must be extracted from the ground with hot water and upgraded by using a high energy process. To make a single barrel of oil requires two tons of tar sands and three barrels of water. The tar sands have been blamed for despoiling fresh water sources, cutting vast tracts of boreal forest, poisoning wildlife, and spreading cancer in indigenous communities.

"The tar sands represent a path of broken treaties, eroded human rights, catastrophic climate change, poisoned air and water and the complete stripping of Canada’s morality in the international community," Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a press release.

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