By Adam Scott | Environmental Defence Canada
Friday, October 05, 2012
Ever wonder what will happen to the land razed by tar sands mining after oil companies are done with it?
You might be forgiven for thinking they would be restored somehow to their natural state. That’s certainly the impression oil industry PR campaign wants to leave you with.
Instead, they plan to fill the mines with toxic tailings sludge and thThe Alberta Tar Sands Lake Districtrow some water on top, creating 30 massive artificial ‘end pit lakes’. Together, the lakes will hold enough water to fill roughly 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, covering an area four times the size of Toronto. An article in Wednesday’s Globe & Mail suggested they could one day become “Alberta’s very own Lake District”.
The reality is that for most open-pit tar sands mines, restoring the land to its natural state has never been part of the plan. For decades now, the industry has been digging gargantuan holes, each one averaging four kilometres wide and as deep as an eight storey building, to strip mine tar sands. Instead of trying to fill the holes with dirt – a huge volume – they’re opting for the cheaper option of using them as a toxic waste dump. Then covering it with clean water and calling it a “lake”.
Feel like going for a swim yet?
In addition to fresh water, many of these lakes will also be filled with toxic tar sands ‘tailings’ that includes water, clay, mercury, arsenic, lead, benzene and particularly nasty chemical known as naphthenic acid. The hope is that the bad stuff stays at the bottom and never mixes with the clean water up top. Sounds risky.
Want to hear the real kicker in this plan? That’s basically all the oil industry plans to do. Fill them with toxic water and walk away. No replanting of trees, no bucolic buffalo grazing, no restored wetlands and muskeg. Just a pit filled with dirty water. A massive experiment that could leave a dangerous toxic legacy behind.
According to the just released Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) report there is “potential for substantial negative and environmental and/or social impacts”.
What if they leak chemicals into the Athabasca River or drinking water for downstream communities? What if wildlife is poisoned?
What if no one wants to put the kids in the car and drive on up for a swim?
Some in the oil industry ask “what other choice do we have?”
Well, we could start by making sure the problem doesn’t get worse. The mines and toxic lakes are already big enough, so let’s put the brakes on industry’s massive plans to expand. Then, focus on a real plan to clean up to toxic mess that’s already there.