Syncrude, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
The Syncrude oil processing plant operates 24 hours a day. It is one of dozens of mega operations extracting
the oil from the tar sands of Alberta. The largest industrial project on earth, the tar sands cover an area 3.5 times the size of The Netherlands. Per day it uses 4.8 times more natural gas than The Netherlands and more fresh water than Amsterdam. Extracting one barrel of tar sands oil creates 3 times more greenhouse gas than a barrel of conventional oil. If Alberta were a country, its per capita greenhouse gas emissions would be higher than any other country in the world.
The crux of this environmental industrial development is the relationship between people on the land and the newly manufactured landscape. The culture and the lifestyle of the indigenous peoples of the region is being affected. Described as a cultural genocide, fossil fuel company interests trample the rights – fresh water, clean air, traditional hunting grounds and more – of the First Nations of Canada.
The tar sands operations wouldn’t be possible without the massive Athabaska river. Oil companies don’t pay anything for their processing water, which they subsequently pollute, requiring residents downstream to buy bottled water to drink. The cumulative impacts of tar sands industrialisation have only recently started to be independently investigated, bringing to light the toxic impacts that tar sands development is having on the ecosystem.