Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Tar sands protests hit Canada

Environmental activists have hung a 70ft banner from a bridge over the Niagara Falls in an effort to draw attention to the damage done by tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

Greenpeace activists also stopped operations at a tar sands mine in Alberta by chaining themselves to a dump truck and scaling a giant excavator.

The Niagara protesters were from Rainforest Action Network (RAN), an American-based group campaigning for responsible environmental policies in big business.

The protests coincide with a meeting tomorrow between Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

Nearly a fifth of US oil imports come from Canada, and of these, more than half come from the tar sands.

These sands are tracts of sandy, clay-like earth that are mixed in with bitumen and commonly found in Canada and Venezuela.

According to Greenpeace, who released a report on the Alberta tar sands today, the process required to turn the tar into crude oil has a massive environmental impact.

"Due to their extreme energy intensity, the tar sands have a higher carbon footprint than any other commercial oil product on the planet," says the report.

"Some projects are now 10 times dirtier than production of oil in the North Sea.

"Greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands could grow to between 127 and 140 million tonnes by 2020, exceeding the current emissions of Austria, Portugal, Ireland, Denmark and likely Belgium."

Strip mining is usually required to remove oil from the sands in Alberta, a process which requires heavy machinery and scars land in an area the size of England. You can see the extent of the damage on Google Maps.

The RAN activists took inspiration from their famous banner drop at the WTO negotiations in Seattle in 1999 to show how the current policy is the antithesis of a clean energy future.

At the same time, a couple of thousand kilometres away, 25 Greenpeace activists raided a Shell mine at Albian Sands, bringing operations to a halt.

Mike Hudema, Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner, said: “Greenpeace has come here today, to the frontiers of climate destruction to block this giant mining operation and tell Harper and Obama meeting tomorrow that climate leaders don’t buy tar sands.

“The tar sands are a devastating example of how our future will look unless urgent action is taken to protect the climate.”

The sands struck by Greenpeace. Photo by Greenpeace.

Today's Greenpeace report also proclaims Canada "a global carbon bully" that has been influenced by industry lobbying and lucrative tar sands revenue.

"Canada has actively fought standards to lower the carbon content of fuels, lobbied against US legislation to lower emissions, muzzled federal scientists and obstructed international climate change negotiations."

Climate change campaigners want leaders to reject the dirty fuel taken from the tar sands in favour of green, renewable energy.

During the recent Climate Camp, the Shell building in the City of London was targeted by protesters angry at their involvement in the Alberta tar sands.

Prior to this, activists attended a packed Climate Camp workshop held by visiting Cree aboriginal people whose land and lives are being destroyed by the tar sand operations.

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, from Fort Chipewyan in Alberta, told the Guardian: "It is destroying the ancient boreal forest, spreading open-pit mining across our territories, contaminating our food and water with toxins, disrupting local wildlife and threatening our way of life."

As well as Shell, other companies taking part in the black gold rush include BP, ExxonMobil and Total. Royal Bank of Scotland, the partly state-owned bank, is a major funder of tar sand mining and was also targeted by Climate Camp activists.

Protester James Clarke told the Telegraph: "RBS is 70%-owned by the public but it is completely against the public interest for our money to be used to fund climate change. Yet again, the banks are putting profit over people."

The Greenpeace activists said on a livestream earlier today that they intend to stay at the mine until "the meeting", presumably the one between Obama and Harper, is finished. Shell have said they will cease operations to ensure the safety of the activists.

In a statement, Shell said: "Shell's No. 1 concern is their safety and our preference is for a negotiated end to this demonstration. We have invited the group into our administrative building to sit down with management to discuss their concerns."

The six RAN activists who dropped the banner were arrested when they returned to the bridge, but two have since been released.

For more information on the tar sands, read the Greenpeace report online.


Shell are also the subject of an ongoing social media campaign by Amnesty who want to highlight the damage done by Shell in the Niger Delta.


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