Impact of Arctic oil Sands in Canada to the Environment


Impactof Arctic oil Sands in Canada to the Environment

TheCanadian oil sands exploitation serves as an energy solution in theNorthern part of America. The mining activities done on theseCanadian soils are a hazard to the environment and its inhabitants.Over the years, various environmental changes have taken place due tothe activities done during oil exploitation. Different measures havebeen taken by the industry to reduce the effect of its emissions tothe environment, but it is still a threat to the environment. Thispaper focuses on the positive and negative impact of the industry onthe environment.

Theoil sands industry has contributed greatly in polluting the air thuscreating an environmental hazard to the community and people ofCanada. These toxic emissions and greenhouse gas emissions includemercury, cadmium lead and carcinogenic Polycyclic AromaticHydrocarbons (PAH). As these gases are released into the air, theypollute the air and in the long term, they also pollute the waterbodies Mercury is the most toxic emission, and it has severe effectson people`s health if it is released to the air. The effects ofmercury on the human body include failure of the immune system.Mercury is readily soluble in water thus it is carried along in theecosystem by aquatic organisms such as fish. The most common form ofmercury that easily dissolves in water is the methylmercury(MeHg).although the major toxicity of mercury includes itscombination with enzymes in the human body thus causing dysfunctionsin the human body such as impaired sex function, memory impairmentand inability to concentrate.(Hyman, 2004) . Carcinogenic PAH’saffected the surrounding soils and plants through theirinternalization into lipid pools and their effect include loweringthe active transportation of ions in plants. PAHs affect human beingstoo because they are carcinogen meaning they have a high risk ofcausing cancer in various human tissues (Canadian Council Ministersof the Environment, 2008).

Anothereffect of this greenhouse gases (GHG) is their impact on globalwarming. The oil sands industry have made Canada be among the top tenemitters of Carbon (iv) oxide (CO2) in the world that is a greatinfluence on the climate change. Canada is also noted for its failureto control the GHG emissions (UNFCCC, 2008).If the plant plan toexpand to three or five folds as planned it will hike this globaldisaster of global warming. Global warming has been a fear of manycountries, and each country is trying to curb its effects by reducingthe emission of GHG in the air. Bitumen is one of the densesthydrocarbons in the world and during refining of bitumen the GHG areemitted. Because of the too much Co2 in the atmosphere, it blanketsthe atmosphere thus blocking the sun’s rays from reaching theearth’s surface thus warming the planet. The effect of globalwarming on the earth includes a rise in the sea level, melting aglacier, melting of the lake ice cover and a change in rainfallpattern. Since Canada is found in the arctic, they are more prone tothese adverse effects because the ice cover on the lakes will meltaway leading to a rise in the sea level.

Theoil sands exploitations involve a lot of mining activities the mostcommon method applicable in the mining areas is open pit mining whichcauses a great threat to the environment because it may be a majorcause of migratory waterfowl that can be caused by the tailing ponds. Larger portions of land have been excavated, for example, in thecity of Edmonton, ninety percent of the area has been mined leadingto the loss of forests which is of major importance to theenvironment. According to the NPRI report, the oil sands have alsocontributed destroying the environment using tailings and wasterock1.Due to the major expansion of the oil sand Exploitation Company, moreland is being lost to the mining activities. The hydroelectric powerproject covered up to 9,700km2 of the Boreal forest and within fiveyears more land from the forest area had been lost to the powerplant. This deforestation activity has left a lot of land bare andexcavated stripping of nature its beauty. The Boreal forest couldhave acted as a purifier to the environment but since it is alsothreatened the environment of the oil sands is at great risk.

Theoil company is also responsible for polluting the water bodies.Examples of the lakes surrounding the oil sands industry have beenpolluted with PAH’s. The lakes have the same chemical compositionas the urban lakes because of the pollution. Once the companyreleases chemicals or gases that pollute the air, the chemicals aredissolving in water thus making the water bodies to be polluted. Thewater bodies are also polluted by the constant contamination blowninto them by the prevailing winds as they blow over the miningsurface areas. The long-term effect of this is that the chemical getinto the ecological food chain. The chemicals are absorbed by fishesand birds and also human as they consume the water. A study carriedout by the University of Alberta showed that some of the fish in LakeAthabasca one of the water bodies near the oil sands were deformed(2010).This is a threat to ecosystems because the more theexploitation of the oil sand expands the more damage it has to theenvironment. The industry also uses a substantial amount of water inthe mining process2.Over five barrels of water are used to produce one barrel of oil thismeans that the communities around the oil sands industry and waterinhabitants such as fish are at a great risk of survival. Thismassive use of water has led to a decrease in the number of fish inthe surrounding water bodies. If there is any further expansion ofthe industry, it means that the environs of Alberta will not haveenough water to sustain them. The waste released into the water bythe plant also pollutes the water bodies since the treatment used inthe waste is still harmful to the aquatic organisms3.Another cause of pollution is noise pollution, during the miningprocesses and as the trucks move on the roads, they produce pollutethe environment with noise. The vibration caused by the double rollcrushers to disintegrate the big sand particles. The whole processingstages are associated with noise because of the various activitiesinvolved in the refining of the oil sands. Due to the prevailingwinds of the area, the air is also polluted by the dust blown aroundfrom the excavated surfaces.

Oilsands production has been beneficial to Canadians in the followingway:

Accordingto the Canadian records, loyalties to it from the oil sands were inexcess of $4 billion between the years of 2012 and 2013. It has beenprojected that in the 25 years, the individual municipal andprovincial taxes accrued from sand oil loyalties may reach the $350billion dollar mark. Oil sands have been known to benefit peopleacross Canada by offering employment opportunities to people acrossCanada4.Data from the oil sands Alberta indicates that nearly 110,000 peoplehad been employed in Canada, and a further 500,000 jobs were expectedto be created by the industry in the next 25 years. This dataindicates that Oil sands are the most vibrant job creators of theentire country and not just areas confined to the oil sands5.

CanadianGDP is set to receive close to $800 billion by 2020 through oil sandrevenue by itself. About 10% of the workforce is Aboriginal withaboriginal companies receiving in excess of $800 million dollars. Itis estimated that for every dollar invested into the oil sands thereis close to $9 worth of economic activity.

Theeconomic importance of having the second largest oil fields in theworld is that Canadians are cautioned against the volatile oil pricesand shortages following various disruptions in major oil-producingnations in the Middle East and Africa6.With colossal growth potential and the fact that only less than 5percent of these reserves have been produced the full potential ofeconomic benefits from the oil sands has yet to be realized. Exploitation of the oil sands of Canada has had a clear and verysignificant impact on the economy of the country.


Theeconomic impact of oil seems not to do much to alleviate theenvironmental destruction it causes. With its oil sands becoming thefastest growing emitters of greenhouse gases reaching up to 108megatons. Consumption of water by these mining plants and thecontinued growth in oil sands production is expected to impactgreatly aquatic life in the region and especially adversely affectrivers such as the Athabasca River. There are risks posed by thegrowing numbers of tailing ponds that currently cover an estimatedarea of 170 kilometers square. Tailing ponds cause greatenvironmental risks especially among different bird species that mayunknowingly try to feed on them. In one instance, about 200 birdsdied as they were attempting to find food from a tailing pond. It isalso estimated that leakage from tailing ponds is contaminating theenvironment and causing harm to small mammals and reptiles.

Thereis also air pollution as a result of the discharge of large volumesof contaminants into the air. These gases have in large doses beenlinked to respiratory tract infections. With an annual increase inoil sand production, an increase in health risks especially among theaboriginal communities in the area where studies have also found tobe relatively less healthy than the rest of the country. Reclamationefforts have provided a great breakthrough in their attempts tosalvage and rebuild natural habitat. This breakthrough has, however,been small in comparison to the speed at which oil sand mines areupsetting these natural lands. Despite all this there has still notbeen a successful reclamation of a tailing pond, and there remains noeffective and lasting way of dealing with liquid tailing. Withelevated quantities of heavy metals such as mercury and lead beingfound in fish set for human consumption and forest, fragmentationcontinues to destroy the ecosystems of many land animals and birdhabitats as well as breeding zones oil sands exploitations is provingto have very serious consequences for the human development and theenvironment.

Ifcarbon capture technology is not harnessed correctly in Canada’s’oil sand exploitation, carbon emissions into the atmosphere willcontinue warming the planet and reducing the polar ice cap cover.Global warming could be particularly brutal among poor third worldnations which lack revenue that may be used to calamities such asdroughts, famines or coastal flooding. Several measures put in placeto reduce carbon emissions in oil sands production such as the carboncapture and storage method that ensures carbon is not released intothe atmosphere but stored underground. There have however beenconcerns about storing large volumes of carbon underground. Canada isseen to be falling behind other industrialized countries in theefforts to reduce emissions and create renewable technology. Thisdeficiency is creating a setback in the global warming mitigationefforts and the inevitable path that the planet is moving towardswith an estimated 3.5-degree increase in temperature over the next 25years.

TheCanadian government maintains in the approval of further oil sandsexpansion with claims that greenhouse emissions and environmentaldamage in areas adjacent to oil sand fields are small. This is,however, hampering the gains made in the efforts to decreasegreenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere standing as a colossalobstacle for action against climate change.


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Kelly, Erin N., Jeffrey W. Short, David W. Schindler, Peter V. Hodson, Mingsheng Ma, Alvin K. Kwan, and Barbra L. Fortin. &quotOil sands development contributes polycyclic aromatic compounds to the Athabasca River and its tributaries.&quot&nbspProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences&nbsp106, no. 52 (2009): 22346-22351

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