Tag Archives: Keystone XL Pipeline

New York Times: Missing the Point on Keystone XL

The Times op-ed page is great place to find thoughtful pieces representing a variety of viewpoints. So I didn’t know what to expect when I saw an op-ed piece in yesterday morning’s paper titled “Don’t Kill Keystone XL. Regulate It.” I wondered what they could possibly be thinking.

Well, I would have never seen it coming. To my utter surprise, the gist of the article was something like this: Impose strict regulations to make really, REALLY sure the pipes don’t rust. Then let them seize all that Midwest land and build the thing. And we’ll be happy and safe knowing TransCanada’s pipeline isn’t RUSTY.

Really. I’m not making this up.

It turns out that the op-ed was written by Jonathon Waldman, a journalist and author who has just finished a book all about – you guessed it – rust. Everything you could want to know about rust in steel mills, rust in bridges, rust in naval vessels and, yes, rust in pipelines – it’s all in there. Rust: The Longest War; Simon & Schuster. If you’ve been really curious about rust, this book is for you.

But President Obama announced that his decision about the pipeline would hinge on his assessment of its likely contribution to climate change. He didn’t mention rust. And for the most part, Keystone’s opponents haven’t been fixated on rust either. They’re mostly thinking about whether we will leave a habitable world for the next generations.

Canada's tar sands, the most polluting oil. Courtesy Desmog.CA

Canada’s tar sands, the most polluting oil.       Courtesy Desmog.CA

But Waldman’s “stop-the-rust” op-ed piece has a quick answer for them all. It’s actually the same point that the State Department offered in 2011 when they first began considering TransCanada’s application to run this thing right through the middle of our country. It goes like this: In Waldman’s words, blocking the pipeline “won’t actually prevent Canada from extracting its tar sands oil. Ours is an energy-thirsty world, and when demand eventually drives up the price of oil, out it will come. If the oil is going to be consumed one way or another, then the only remaining argument against the Keystone pipeline is that of preventing local environmental catastrophes that result from spills.”

This man must be reasonably intelligent. But I have to wonder, where has he been the last four years? Anyone could see at the outset that the “resistance is futile” argument was cooked up in oil-company PR departments. If all the world’s oil reserves “are going to be consumed one way or another,” then we might as well say goodbye to the human race, and most other species as well.

Hyperbole, you say? Consider:

The world’s proven, recoverable fossil-fuel reserves presently controlled by energy companies contain more than five times the CO2 that is permissible for consumption if the world is to have a chance of staying within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. Burn that amount five times over and we’re in 4-degree-plus territory, which climate science refers to ominously as an “unstable state.”

And what on earth does that mean? It means that in the neighborhood of  4 degrees, we trigger all kinds of “positive feedback loops,” like the shriek you hear when someone puts a microphone too close to a loudspeaker. Blow recklessly through 2 degrees, flirt with 4 degrees, and no one has any idea where it stops for thousands of years to come. White, reflective sea ice and ice sheets give way to dark ocean water and land surfaces, absorbing more and more solar heat, melting more ice, and leading to even more heat. Warming oceans release frozen deep-sea methane hydrates, which are incredibly abundant and 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, warming the oceans even more, and releasing even more methane. Melting permafrost permits enormous Arctic peat reserves to decay, releasing yet more carbon into the air, melting yet more permafrost … and so on.

In all this, one thing is clear: The extinction event that already threatens the world today will almost certainly rival the five previous mass extinctions if we disrupt the climate by 4 degrees or more. And just like in those events, such as the one 65 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs, the dominant species never fares very well.

The Tar sands pipeline has ignited numerous protest campaigns in recent years.

The Tar sands pipeline has ignited numerous protest campaigns in recent years.

So for a rust expert to tell us that energy companies will inevitably do something that threatens our species’ survival, it’s probably fair to ask how he’s so sure.  Especially today. Up there at the Canadian end of the proposed pipeline, tar sands operations are shutting down one after the other. That’s because they’re some of the most expensive, carbon-intensive and low-quality oils in the world. And they don’t pencil out in today’s market by a long shot. Last year, both Shell and France’s oil giant Total abandoned massive new tar sands projects. Before that, Canada’s Suncor and Total killed a joint project in the tar sands – writing off a $1.5 billion investment. And just a few months ago, Canada’s Statoil announced the postponement of a major tar sands mining project for at least three years.

But just wait, you might say, and eventually prices will recover enough for these companies to turn a profit mining this stuff. I wouldn’t be so certain. Take a look at the numbers:

  • Tar sands oil is expensive to produce, and commands a low price because of its poor quality. Estimates vary, but almost all of it won’t break even at market prices below $95 per barrel.
  • Pipelines are the cheapest way to move the tar sands to market, but the Americans and the native First Nations aren’t budging on any of them. Add another $18 per barrel for expensive rail transport across the continent.
  • There’s no market price on carbon emissions today, but it is almost certainly coming. The age when pollution was free – when the costs were for everyone else to pay, while the profits flow to rich oil producers – is coming to an end. Look in virtually any company’s SEC filings, and you’ll find their plans for life after the free ride is over. The EPA has done extensive work on the “social cost of carbon” (SCC), and it’s alarming. When oil pays its own social costs, you can add another $19-20 per barrel to costs.
  • So tally up those costs, and tar sands have to clear more than $130 per barrel just to break even. Today, Brent Crude, a major benchmark oil commodity price, closed just below $60. Will it stay there? Who knows? But tar sands producers have an enormous hurdle to clear to make a profit on some of the world’s dirtiest oil, and they will for years to come, while the world transitions to a sustainable economy.

So to the Times, and the rust expert who gave us his thoughts yesterday, I would suggest a little more rigor, before you proclaim that “the oil will come out.” Resistance is NOT futile. Fossil fuel reserves will NOT all be burned into the atmosphere. The world will NOT accept extinction at the hands of one very rich industry. And congressional climate deniers will NOT forever prohibit our country from joining the world in the struggle for a sustainable future.

And to those believers who have been praying faithfully for the denial of the Keystone XL permit, your prayers are surely NOT in vain. You will keep the faith, not simply assume defeat for your Father’s world and his creatures.

The Pipeline, the Speaker, and the Anarchist Grandmothers

Pretty much everyone loves my Barbara. Her doors are always open to countless house guests every year. She does the laundry for at least two families. Her chickens provide eggs for much of the neighborhood. When their world darkens, our little granddaughters come running to “Nana.” And our grown kids are still glad to find “Mama” whenever there’s a need.

But the Speaker of the House of Representatives has another name for my partner of thirty-six years. To him, she’s a “left-fringe extremist and anarchist.”  Really. Kids, one of the country’s most powerful politicians thinks that Nana is an anarchist.

I really wish Speaker John Boehner would get to know her. I think he’d find that she’s a really nice person. She does have some suspect habits, it’s true. Most every day, she dares to pray that God will move our leaders not to approve the construction of the Keystone XL, a new pipeline designed to carry enormous quantities of some of the world’s most polluting oil across our entire country, from the Canadian tar sands to export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.

Nana working with one of her employers

Nana working at her favorite job.

And most every night, she sits down to write President Obama, begging him to protect her granddaughters, and others who will be harmed by pollution from the tar sands pipeline. She writes for native Canadians whose families are being poisoned by tar sands mining; for Kenyan farmers facing chronic drought and crop failures; and for Bangladeshi delta dwellers beset by encroaching sea water. And she writes for our little girls, whose world will be choked with levels of greenhouse gases unknown for millions of years.

She takes pretty seriously the words of the prophet Micah:  “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

But that’s not what Speaker Boehner sees. With a presidential veto now all but certainly awaiting the  just-passed Keystone pipeline bill, he’s lashing out the chorus of voices asking our country to rethink our mindless oil binge.

“Instead of listening to the people,” Boehner said yesterday  , “the president is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists. The president needs to listen to the American people and say ‘yes, let’s build the Keystone pipeline.’”

In fact, one of the more persistent of those “anarchist” voices is Nana, who has hardly given the president’s mail-readers a day’s rest during the last year. And then there’s me. And my brother Chris, a Presbyterian minister. And his daughters. And my kids. And my doctor. And the farmer in the yellow house across the road. And many, many other normal Americans.

But to the Speaker, Obama is listening to “left-fringe anarchists” (like Nana?). It won’t do for him to admit that normal people who care about justice are asking our country not to double down on the dirtiest fossil fuels. He has to dehumanize them with labels suggesting danger or lunacy.

But in his frenzy to push ahead with this pipeline, the Speaker may have missed where our country’s people are heading. Sure, under the barrage of oil-funded advertising campaigns promising jobs, jobs, jobs, you can find plenty of people who think the pipeline is okay. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 41% of respondents said they supported the pipeline, but 57% said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion, or that they opposed it. Significantly, public support for the pipeline has eroded seriously over the last year. In November 2014, a Pew Research poll found that support for the pipeline from Democrats had fallen by 11 points (54 percent to 43 percent) since March 2014. Among independents, support declined 12 points (70 percent to 58 percent).

But even more important than the narrow question of whether to build a single pipeline, Americans now agree in overwhelming numbers that climate change is serious, manmade, and in need of national action. The New York Times and Stanford University recently conducted a poll that found 77% of Americans supporting “substantial” federal action to limit climate change. And while a partisan divide stubbornly persists, even 48% of Republicans agreed.

And when asked: “Should the federal government limit the amount of greenhouse gases that U.S. businesses put out?” fully 60% of Republicans joined the 78% majority who said yes.

The story is considerably different, however, for Republican politicians in Congress. Just last week, 49 of 54 Republican senators voted against a non-binding resolution declaring that “climate change is real, and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

So Mr. Speaker, we’ve heard you’re not a scientist, but facts are stubborn things. The evidence of manmade climate disruption is now overwhelming, and widely available even to laymen like us. Among climate scientists, military planners, coastal engineers and marine scientists, you don’t even argue if it’s true, but how best to respond to it. And normal people are waking up to this reality in growing numbers.

They are not fringe radicals. They are not anarchists. And some of them are just grandmothers who are fighting for the world their little girls will inherit. They don’t control billions of dollars to pour into your political campaigns. But when the future of their granddaughters is at stake, they’re not giving up.

Sooner or later, Mr. Speaker, you’re going to have to deal with Nana.

Keystone XL: Not Jobs & Energy, but “Money & Power”

TakePart.com features a brief article on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s comments on the bill to force the State Department to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, the new Congress’ #1 priority, KXL is unlikely to create more than a few thousand American jobs over two years of construction, and probably no more than 50 permanent positions once it becomes operational. (We’ve pointed out that that is about the same level of permanent jobs as building two new Taco Bells.)

By comparison, Senator Elizabeth Warren said, passing a permanent highway bill would create upwards of 10 million jobs in the next four years and also restore crumbing roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.

“It’s not about jobs, it’s not about energy. Why is this bill so urgent?” asked Warren. “The answer is power, money and power.”

Watch her two-minute remarks below:

Read the complete article here.

Keystone XL and Job Creation: Nonsense and Prayer

Today, the House votes on a bill to mandate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, from the tar sands moonscape of Alberta, Canada, to the export terminals at Port Arthur on the Gulf of Mexico. There, two massive refineries owned by Saudi, Dutch and American producers are waiting to process the heavy sour tar-like crude, and ship it all over the world, but principally to the Pembroke Refinery in Wales for processing and sale in Europe.

This drama has a global cast: Canadian producers; multinational refiners; European consumers; and American politicians.

Much is at stake. The Canadian government of Steven Harper has been demanding it for years, so they can fully exploit the world’s third-largest deposit of fossil fuels – and their ticket to a seat among the world’s energy super-powers. The Saudis, the Dutch, and the Europeans have invested billions in anticipation of the flood of heavy sour crude. The American Koch brothers have bought up massive tracts of Canadian leaseholds, anticipating approval of pipelines to get the stuff to global markets.

On the other side, First Nations in Canada, native American tribes and Midwestern ranchers are fighting the destruction of once-pristine northern tribal lands and the risks of additional pipeline spills fouling rivers and aquifers. And environmentalists of all stripes are alarmed at the potential exploitation of some of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels, citing findings that exploitation of the tar sands would almost certainly push the global climate system beyond the 3.6 degree Fahrenheit threshold, often cited as a threshold for runaway feedback loops driving catastrophic consequences to threatened species and vulnerable human communities.

Canada's First Nations have been dogged opponents of tar sands pollution

Canada’s First Nations: dogged opponents of tar sands pollution  (2014 Healing Walk)

Congress has tried to force the President’s hand before, and come up short. But with the GOP now firmly in control, the first item of business is the pipeline. We can now be pretty certain that it will be sent to the President’s desk, where he has promised a veto.

And why would this pipeline rise to the very tippy-top of the new Majority’s Christmas list? To hear the politicians, it’s all about jobs. They’re going to show the country that they know how to create jobs, and do a better job of it than the Obama Administration has done. But here’s where they have to hope that the voters don’t pay too much attention to the facts.

The US economy is actually doing a remarkable job of generating new jobs without reckless projects that imperil the world’s natural systems. Consider:

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US economy created 2,924,000 new jobs in 2014 – or more than 8,000 new jobs every single day.
  • Unemployment has fallen to 5.7%, the lowest level since the summer of 2008.
  • Forbes magazine tells us that when we compare recent presidents who inherited recessions – Reagan and Obama – Obama wins hands down, keeping unemployment lower, and generating far more jobs (although not as many as Clinton).

But, as they always say, ANY unemployment is too much. (Actually, no real economists ever say that, but politicians always do.) So new jobs are a good thing. And how many new jobs will the new Congress’s top-priority pipeline create? Well, TransCanada, the pipeline operator, estimated between 2,500 and 6,500 temporary jobs related to construction of the pipeline.

For the US economy, that’s something like one morning’s worth of new jobs.

Of course, it’s no surprise that TransCanada’s numbers tend toward the rosy side. The State Department figured that the pipeline would support 3,900 temporary construction jobs. But after two years of construction, only 35 employees would be needed to operate the pipeline. That’s THIRTY-FIVE permanent employees. It takes the US economy only a few seconds to generate that many jobs.

For perspective, 35 five new permanent jobs is what you get by opening two new fast food restaurants.

So when our congressional representatives tell us that the Keystone XL is a jobs program, they’re talking nonsense, and we should all tell them so.

400,000 people jammed New York City in September to demand climate action

400,000 people jammed New York City in September to demand climate action 

But what about the pipelines opponents? Can you trust everything you hear from them?

Well, a bit of skepticism might be warranted here as well. And that’s because global climate change is not a very popular vote-getter these days. They’ll talk about pipeline spills, native rights, foreign oil companies and exported oil. And while there’s ample truth to each of those, climate change is really at the core of opposition to Keystone XL. Here’s why:

  • We now know that we must avoid warming the globe more than 2 degrees Celsius if we hope to preserve the Earth’s ecosystems to support the Creation’s millions of living species– including our own. Even if we succeed at that level, we will have consigned more species to extinction than at any time in millions of years.
  • To have any hope of staying below 2 degrees C extra global heat, we must limit total fossil-fuel carbon burned by mankind to one trillion metric tons. The problem is, we’ve already burned more than half of that – 570 billion tons. We have a maximum of 430 billion tons left in our carbon allowance.
  • But the world’s reserves of recoverable fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – contain more than 13,000 billion tons of CO2. Once again, that’s 13,000 billion tons for a world that can only afford to burn 430 billion. Do the math for yourself: The overwhelming bulk of recoverable oil, gas and coal simply must stay in the ground.
  • The carbon-heavy tar sands at the other end of the proposed KXL pipeline contain 240 billion tons of CO2, enough carbon to blow through the global budget, consigning future generations to challenges and horrors we have never known.
  • And all fossil fuels are not equal, when it comes to manmade climate change. Unburned methane is just about the worst, followed by coal, and then extreme oil like the tar sands. Conventional crude oil is somewhere in the middle, and safely-controlled natural gas is at the lighter end of the carbon spectrum.
  • A new report just published in the science journal Nature has looked at global reserves by region, and found that that one-third of the world’s “proved” oil reserves must stay in the ground for the Earth to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate disruption. It’s worse for gas, with 50% having to stay in the ground. And for coal, 80% of existing reserves must never be produced and burned. Finally, NO new fossil fuel reserves can ever be developed, and not a single drop should come out of the Arctic.

Against this sober outlook, the new Congress is merrily charging ahead in a probably-hopeless attempt to reward their campaign contributors, and wrest authority for cross-border pipelines from the State Department, into the hands of politicians who must look to oil companies every two years to finance their election campaigns.

A small band of Christians has been praying over the last year for the denial of the Keystone XL Pipeline. You can find us at PrayNoKXL on Facebook. And while we’ve been praying, seemingly against all odds, the foundations of the tar sands have begun to crack, and in some instances, to crumble:

  • Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled in favor of First Nations tribes who are sworn enemies of this and other tar sands pipelines slated to run through their lands;
  • A Nebraska Court delayed the pipeline by over a year, before being reversed only this morning;
  • The world’s climate scientists have given us a “carbon budget,” clarifying that much of world may become unrecognizable or uninhabitable if the tar sands oil is actually burned;
  • China and the US have finally broken their stalemate over climate policy, leading the nations of the world to expect serious action on global climate change by December 2015 at the global climate negotiations in Paris; and
  • The market price of oil has collapsed, making every drop of tar sands oil a money loser for its producers.

We don’t know what’s ahead. But we do know this: God invites – even commands – his children to pray against the odds. We could never have foreseen these events when we began to pray. And even now, we are not assured of any particular outcome. But neither were the apostles Peter and John, when they took a chance before the crippled beggar in Jerusalem’s gate: “I have no silver and gold,” said Peter, “but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

Perhaps we don’t have Peter’s faith and bravado, but we are still praying. Others may think they’re in control of this issue, but we’re pretty sure they’re not.

Keystone: Don’t Like This Senate? Buy Yourself a Better One

Two notable facts come into focus as the U.S. Senate today came within a whisker of forcing through the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline – linking the Alberta tar sands petro-moonscape with warm-water U.S. export terminals in Texas. First, the Koch Brothers are revealed to be the largest non-Canadian owner of tar sands mineral rights, holding acreage the size of the state of Delaware. Second, those same Koch Brothers are estimated to have spent roughly $300 million to influence U.S. Congressional elections this year.

That’s roughly $300 in political spending for every acre of tar sands oil they own.

When you think about it, that’s a pretty small investment for so much oil.

The Washington Post reports today: “You might expect the biggest foreign lease owner in Canada’s oil sands, or tar sands, to be one of the international oil giants, like Exxon Mobil or Royal Dutch Shell. But that isn’t the case. The biggest non-Canadian lease holder in the northern Alberta oil sands is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the privately-owned cornerstone of the fortune of conservative Koch brothers Charles and David. The Koch Industries subsidiary holds leases on 1.1 million acres — an area nearly the size of Delaware — in the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada.”

And during the election season, The Huffington Post reported: “The billionaire Koch brothers and their political network are planning to spend almost $300 million during the 2014 election cycle, some of which will go toward a renewed effort to combat unprecedented carbon regulations unveiled by the Obama administration last month.” Of course, the exact amount can’t be known, because U.S. law permits the Kochs and others to keep most of their spending secret.

Tar sand petro-moonscape. Courtesy of Sierra Club Canada

Tar sand petro-moonscape. Courtesy of Sierra Club Canada

If your business plan called for the destruction of more than a million acres of boreal forests, digging out vast mountains of tar-soaked soil, wringing out a killing in oily bitumen, and leaving behind indigenous peoples  awash in enormous lakes of toxic sludge, wouldn’t $300 per acre seem like a small price to pay? Especially if the Congress you purchased was willing to force its farmers and ranchers to give you a pipeline right-of-way through the heart of its breadbasket?

We continue to pray for justice for the victims of tar sands oppression. Today, those prayers test our faith in new ways, as the rich and powerful flex their muscles in Congress. Lord, open our eyes to see the true Sovereign of this world, with eyes unclouded by the many pretenders who claim it as their own.

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations…. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.” (Isaiah 42:1, 4)

Canada’s Petro-State: Fox Guarding the Henhouse?

We Americans don’t have all that much regard for foreigners, do we? Some countries seem to be brimming with jihadists. Others might bring to mind illegal immigrants. Perhaps others are stealing our jobs with their cheap labor. But Canada is different. For many Americans, Canada is almost like us. We may demand secure borders, but we don’t really mean that border.

And that’s why it would be so surprising if we were to find Canada behaving like a petro-state dictatorship.

But that’s just about what I found during my recent visit to the tar sands region of Alberta last week. It looks as though the federal and provincial governments have become so dependent on oil money that basic elements of just governance now seem like quaint throwbacks to a more innocent era.

I began to suspect this at last week’s Healing Walk in Fort McMurray, Alberta, when First Nations leaders repeated again and again the nearly identical chorus: Our land and water is being destroyed by industrial contamination, our native people are faced with de facto genocide, and the government refuses even to acknowledge our peril. In fact, the government actively suppresses evidence of our suffering.

It sounded bad. But then I heard from a doctor named John O’Connor, and his story removed all doubt.

Dr. O’Connor is a family practice physician from Fort McMurray, in the heart of the tar sands district of Alberta. In 2006, he began treating patients in the tiny indigenous community of Fort Chipewyan, 150 miles downstream from “Fort Mac” and the tar sands operations. No sooner did he arrive than he began to hear stories from the community elders of ominous changes in the environment. In stark contrast to what they grew up with, they could no longer drink the water; fish and wildlife routinely showed grotesque deformities; game and fish were becoming scarce; their own people were suffering from  mysterious illnesses.

Dr. John O'Connor, Fort Chipewyan

Dr. John O’Connor, Fort Chipewyan

In no time, O’Connor began to see alarming patterns in those illnesses. Relatively rare cancers were appearing regularly – blood and lymphatic cancers, bile duct cancer, biliary tract and thyroid cancers. Added to those were auto-immune diseases – Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, skin disorders and intestinal disorders. Continue reading

My Healing Walk Through the Tar Sands

The sun moves slowly in these latitudes. It gradually arks, from its rising on the northwest tree line, in a long southward loop, and back northward to its rest below the edge of the northwest summer sky.  At 11:00 last evening, we were burying the day’s compost in the pale evening light. By 3:30 this morning, the sky over the lake was already silver and rose. And so at 4:00 AM, I am up to greet the orange Alberta sunrise.

An old hymn courses through my mind: “When morning gilds the skies … may Jesus Christ be praised.” My heart is surprisingly willing this chilly Canadian Sunday. I think of my home church, soon to meet, a couple of worlds – and as many times zones – away to the southeast. I read by the lakeside J.B. Phillips’ version of the prayer of Jesus: “Father, may your name be honored – may your kingdom come!”  I think of that kingdom, with longing and hope, mixed with lament.

Willing heart, yes. But my joints are stiff, and my feet are blistered. No doubt, three nights sleeping on the ground is catching up with my pampered frame. But yesterday’s Healing Walk through Alberta’s toxic tar sands tailing lakes has done a job on my lungs and my tender feet, and I hobble around the campsite like a man twenty years older than my threescore.

Like this morning, it was a beautiful sunrise yesterday. About three hundred of us from Canada and beyond waited for a caravan of yellow school buses to take us to the Syncrude tar sands processing complex. Led by Cree, Chipewyan and Dene tribal elders, we came to pray, to recognize, and to mourn together – to bear witness to the devastation wrought in these boreal forests and indigenous homelands – by the destructive economy of which we all share some part.

For two days, we have listened to stories from native people whose families have cared for this land for millennia, and for whom the land has provided generously in return. When they call it their “mother,” they express a connection that is simply beyond the grasp of us “visitors.” There is a profound love in this community – for the water, the air, the land; and the fish, animals and people who depend upon it. People – not just the living, but those who preserved it for us long ago, and those who are yet unborn. You can feel the sense of belonging and responsibility to those who will follow “to the seventh generation.”

In due course, we are headed northward, following the flow of the Athabasca River, in our yellow bus caravan, toward the tar sands. No one calls them “oil sands” in this community. The industry PR campaign has won over much of Canada, but it’s had no effect on these people of the land.

And as we travel, the murky yellow sky ahead grows thicker. We wish to each other that we had brought bandanas for some defense against the foul air. But it’s not the air that brings us here.

It’s the water.

Take a look at a map of Canada. The pristine Athabasca flows north through Alberta, passing through the Fort McMurray tar sands region in the northeastern corner of the province.  And as it continues northward, it opens into a broad inland delta before spilling into the enormous Lake Athabasca, from which it feeds the mighty Mackenzie River. The Mackenzie, exceeded in North America only by the Mississippi. Everywhere you look on the map around here, you see water. You can’t travel overland up to Fort Chipewyan at this time of year, because there’s nothing frozen to drive on.

So you’d think, in this land blessed by God with unfathomable riches of fresh water and aquatic wildlife, surely healthy water would be enjoyed with glad and thankful hearts. Wouldn’t it? Continue reading