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

June 15, 2007

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).

The area cannot be even hinted at as for the distance of where they want to go, and what they are planning to do. Remember, this “phenomenal growth” has only just penetrated the surface (literally), with a total mock oil production now up to 1.2-1.3 million barrels of “oil” a day. They want to ramp it up to five. In the far-off distance, one can only see trees, a few seismic lines, and life. It all must go, beyond the reached of your retinas. There is a war on, a war on a concept—a tactic, and that “war” is being fed by this war.

In war, death is normal and you spend every day wondering if it may be your last. The problems associated with this are not to be seen. The black holes that are almost impossible to mentally comprehend are so vast that even looking above them they still make no sense. The barracks of the “Syn-Cor” soldiers are small towns. They come with bars, restaurants, “rooms” and all else. You can see them from above, they look like concentration camps. The reason for that is because they are concentration camps.

At one point we passed over the Syncrude Plant on our way back to the airport. Looking down without a sense as to the size of the one block of the one project out of the seven projects underway, and the others being planned faster than even the resilient Fort Muck can keep up, I noticed something. A truck— hauling a load. Seeing it made me take a mental step back, and go for another look at the same area. There were at least 20 of these trucks, driving about in a section of the block of the project of the Gigaproject. These are the trucks that could hold 6 fullsize pick up trucks in each one. In the midst of this—only one section of one block of one project within the Gigaproject—I noticed the darkened sides of the earth. They were deep in the Tar Pits, where they were digging into the planet, hauling off truck load after truck load with hundreds of tonnes each in them. They looked as if Hot Wheels had assembled something for me to look at, but it was visible from 2000 feet up. And it will keep growing. Until you have looked across an expanse that takes the earth’s natural curve and tucks into it another wasteland, a “national sacrifice area”, a strip mine that is the size of Florida as a crater in the worlds most important and most in tact forest cover. All of it—simply, gone. It doesn’t end there, but my rant will.

This feels like the rant I am on that should keep going. I am not feeling as if there is much else to say, or perhaps I am denying the possibility of putting this sickly feeling into literature—worrying I’d do the language what “Syn-Cor” is doing to our mother earth. I’ll stop with this: The poetic moment of the day came when one of my co-flyers out and out vomited. The barf bag was filled with ralphings, and then tossed out the window, sailing through the air to the tar pits below. I cannot be that truly convincing— no one can be— when they say that the tar pits make them sick.

It’s fitting: the stench of burning tar, smoke that often makes your eyes water, flying somewhat low with the tar sand melting process floating its c02 residue in all directions around where you breathe. Soon, the air will make all of us barf on the tar pits, a form of poetically symbolic, if not highly effective, resistance.

But in the meantime, we need to stop them. Full stop, and no poetry necessary.


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