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Fort McMurray

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Toxic Alberta

Last winter we decided VBS had to do a story on the Oil Sands of Alberta. So far no American media outlet had comprehensively covered it and even the local press's approach has left a lot to be desired.

April 21, 2009 Apr 21 by VBS TV

On the map with Avi Lewis

Oil. Canada has it and the US craves it. But what are the implications of treating Alberta's tar sands as America's security blanket?

April 21, 2009 Apr 21 by CBC

Tar Sands and Tankers

Enbridge Inc., a Calgary-based pipeline company, wants to bring tar sands tankers to British Columbia's coast. This opening segment will introduce you to the abundance of British Columbia's north coast, which includes the coastal waters of the Great Bear Rainforest.

April 21, 2009 Apr 21 by Dogwood Initiative
October 28, 2008 Foreign Policy

Emissions Thicken the Air in Alberta

The tar sands' biggest customer has second thoughts

January 27, 2008 Weblog:

The Globe and Mail does Tar Sands for a week

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Immitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The first of the Globe and Mail's week-long series on the tar, I mean, oil sands has at least one interesting insight, though it'll be interesting to keep track of all the things that they don't mention.

And money is getting tight in Thunder Bay. Anyone who looks closely may see some irony in the fact that the closing of local paper mills is at least partly because the loonie has been driven to record heights thanks to Alberta's staggering wealth.

But one person's downturn is another's upswing. While places like Thunder Bay suffer, many Canadians enjoy the proceeds of rising oil stocks. The spotlight on Alberta ended the long-lamented discount attached to Canadian oil company shares, which have outperformed their U.S. counterparts of late. (Suncor, for instance, has become the world's best performer among big oil companies that are traded publicly.)

It's something that the Globe can toss out there casually and then forget about, but it's actually a huge economic issue in Canada. The oil boom in Alberta allows investors to continue to pretend that the economy is ok, while sectors like timber and manufacturing approach a full-blown crisis.

» continue reading "The Globe and Mail does Tar Sands for a week"

January 8, 2008 Labour

Hard Times Sold in Vending Machines

Worker migration from Atlantic Canada to the tar sands

December 31, 2007 Features

What the Tar Sands Need

Processing requires massive inputs of water, energy, land, labour

November 24, 2007 Labour

Temporary Labour or Disposable Workers?

Foreign labourers are brought to the tar sands, but are easily sent home

November 22, 2007 Labour

Letting the Wildcat Out of the Bag

Alberta's Averted Energy Tradesworker General Strike and the Fall Wildcat Walk-Outs

November 14, 2007 Gender

For Many Women, Alberta's Boom a Bust

Rising housing costs, lack of alternatives lead to precarious situations

October 31, 2007 Arts

Sublime Tar Sands?

Edward Burtynsky's photography and Canada's extractive industries

October 29, 2007 Environment

Smoking in the Greenhouse

Tar sands growth makes meeting Kyoto targets less likely

October 17, 2007 Accounts

Working Full-Time

The work camps of Fort McMurray

July 24, 2007 Weblog:

Toxic Alberta

VBS.tv has a surprisingly good documentary series about the tar sands, watchable online. It rings true with the experiences I had in Fort McMurray--in fact, it's uncanny how many of the exchanges with workers are almost identical... only we didn't have a camera running the whole time.

July 2, 2007 Weblog:

Effects of the Tar Sands: Interview with Celina Harpe

An interview with Celina Harpe, an elder in the Cree community of Fort Mackay, downstream from Suncor and Syncrude strip mines and tar sands extraction plants near Fort McMurray.

For those who prefer YouTube, there's a shorter version there.

June 27, 2007 Weblog:

Fort McMurray: Flyover

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Photos from an overflight of the tar sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta.

» view more photos in"Fort McMurray: Flyover"

June 15, 2007 Weblog:

Notes from the Tar Pits: Flying Above an Open Pit Graveyard

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Notes from the Tar Pits:
Flying Above an Open Pit Graveyard
Macdonald Stainsby // June 15, 2007

The plane cleared the tarmac and into the air we went, with a warning that the flight was going to have to go a little bit to the east of the usual, as the forest fires were too heavy. But the plume of white obfuscation that rose more than all the others was Suncor’s, with 2nd through 6th place going to Syncrude, CNRL, Albian/Shell, Total and (off in the distance) Petro Canada. It was completely impossible to spot any difference between the forest fires and the plumes of death-toxins breaking up into the atmosphere.

The giant tailings lakes are a sight to behold. The one near Syncrude, as I discovered from our pilot, is among the largest human made dams in the entire world. Though, I’m getting “biggest” fatigue; Every time I learn a new angle on how this is operating, it’s about the “biggest”. As a gentleman who drove us out of Fort MacKay said the other day: “If it’s the biggest in the world, it’s here,” and he was making zero reference to anything in particular.

Along with the largest craters in the world, deep pits of black sided land, being munched away, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and through every holiday are the highways being constructed. While people living downstream in Fort Chipewyan have unsafe running water in their homes and are a seasonal fly-in community, the roads to “projects” are as relentlessly constructed as the tar is pulled out of the earth. There are full private highways, and when it’s time to pull the tar from under the highway, they simply move it and build another one. Oil is still oil, after all (even when it is tar and synthetic/mock).

» continue reading "Notes from the Tar Pits: Flying Above an Open Pit Graveyard"

June 14, 2007 Weblog:

Forts McMurray and Mackay: Tar Sands Stink

The entire day was slow-going and lazy. We had wandered around the town commenting surreptitiously on ‘Fort McMurray-isms’—that is, various opinions we’ve come to form in the last couple of days. For example, just before skipping town, we’d parked ourselves outside of Zellers, under a sign that read ‘No loitering, No Littering, No Spitting,’ and cooked ourselves some noodles on Macdonald’s camp stove. Most of the stores in that particular strip mall complex were closed, and Dru wondered aloud at how many cars there still were in the parking lot, which was close to full.

» continue reading "Forts McMurray and Mackay: Tar Sands Stink"

June 14, 2007 Weblog:

Notes from the Tar Pits: From McMurray to MacKay

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Notes from the Tar Pits: From McMurray to MacKay
Macdonald Stainsby
June 14, 2007

» continue reading "Notes from the Tar Pits: From McMurray to MacKay"

June 14, 2007 Weblog:

Fort McMurray: Tar Sands from Space

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Courtesy of Google, some satellite images of the strip mining of tar sands near Fort McMurray. The large gray areas are tailing ponds.

Explore for yourself, starting here.

» view more photos in"Fort McMurray: Tar Sands from Space"

June 14, 2007 Weblog:

Fort McMurray: The Tar Sands

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Above:

1. Syncrude's bitumen processing plant is not accessible, though it is visible from the highway. Apparently, there are plans to move the highway so that the road past Syncrude will be a private road.

» continue reading "Fort McMurray: The Tar Sands"

» view more photos in"Fort McMurray: The Tar Sands"

June 12, 2007 Weblog:

Fort McMurray: On the Street

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Top: patrons at the "Oil Can". Above: not under the same roof; a clandestine camper between a fence and a highway, and a syncrude-sponsored tent where hot tubs are sold

Today, we received our first real Fort McMurray experience: after two nights, the roommates of the one person we know in town decided that they didn't want us sleeping on their floor anymore. We now face what anyone coming to town or working a job that pays less than $100k/year faces: housing. It's not so bad, as we had planned to camp anyway, but even finding a spot to pitch a tent will be challenging.

» continue reading "Fort McMurray: On the Street"

» view more photos in"Fort McMurray: On the Street"

June 11, 2007 Weblog:

Fort McMurray: Homeless, Working Poor, and Welfare Recipients

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We had a brief conversation with Flex Turner, a twenty-five year resident of Fort McMurray, Syncrude employee, and soup kitchen volunteer.

Turner said that since the kitchen where he volunteers started 13 years ago, he has "seen the numbers explode" every year. In addition to the city's homeless population, which he estimates at around 500, the church-based kitchen serves the working poor--mainly those "at McDonald's," cleaning jobs and the hotel industry--and welfare recipients. Once people pay their rent, he said, "there's not a lot left over for food."

» continue reading "Fort McMurray: Homeless, Working Poor, and Welfare Recipients"

» view more photos in"Fort McMurray: Homeless, Working Poor, and Welfare Recipients"

June 11, 2007 Weblog:

Fort McMurray: Campers and Trucks

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From top:

Campers in the Abasands Heights neighbourhood. A small bungalow here can sell for $400,000, it's said, and thousands of workers are living in trucks, vans, tents and corporate-run camps.

Quad tracks on a local trail.

Trucks bring in new equipment daily.

» continue reading "Fort McMurray: Campers and Trucks"

» view more photos in"Fort McMurray: Campers and Trucks"

June 11, 2007 Weblog:

Fort McMurray: We have the Energy

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When you're traveling to Fort McMurray, Alberta--five hours north of Edmonton--people assume you're going there to work. The average income here is around $90,000/year. Presented with "we're going just to find out what's going on," people are baffled. The northern city is known for being an expensive, rough place with nothing to do, too much traffic and a lack of services.

So why are people coming up here by the thousands?

» continue reading "Fort McMurray: We have the Energy"

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