Locus Focus
program date: 
Mon, 10/25/2010

Now that most of the easy oil on our planet is gone, oil companies are turning to exotic places to extract oil: deep under the ocean as well as from shale and sand formations. In the far north of Alberta, Canada, millions of acres of pristine boreal forest are being stripped-mined for a substance called bitumen, that holds oil in solid form. Since 2001 this operation has accelerated at a rate that industry and government can't even keep up with, and it has turned a once pristine wilderness into hell on earth.

On this episode of Locus Focus, Sam Mace—Inland Northwest Project Director for
Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition—and host Barbara Bernstein discuss why we in the lower forty-eight should care about tar sands extraction in Canada. These operations that are having such a dire impact on the enviroment in northern Alberta, also affect the Columbia-Snake River Basin. Huge mining equipment from Korea - two-thirds the length of a football field, three stories high and weighing at least 344,000 lbs. - has already made its way up the Columbia and Snake Rivers and now sits in the port of Lewiston, ID, waiting for permits to continue its trip along narrow mountain roads through Idaho and Montana on its way to the Alberta tar sands pits.

"The tar sands constitute one of our planet's greatest threats. They are a double-barreled threat. First, producing oil from tar sands emits two or three times the global warming pollution of conventional oil. But [it] also diminishes one of the best carbon reduction tools on the planet: Canada's Boreal Forest."
                                                                                                   —James Hansen, NASA climate scientist

Originally from Coos Bay, Oregon, Sam Mace has worked on behalf of forests, fish and rivers for 15 years. She first moved to Eastern Washington in 1994 and joined efforts to restore the Snake River in 1998 as the Salmon and Steelhead Project Coordinator for Washington and Idaho Wildlife Federations based in Spokane. In 2000 Sam moved back to Oregon where she worked for Trout Unlimited. Homesick for snow, desert, the Palouse and the Snake River, Sam returned to Eastern Washington in 2004 as Save Our Wild Salmon's Inland Northwest Project Director. Sam spends her free time hiking, fishing and floating western rivers and looks forward to doing a trip on a free-flowing lower Snake River some day in the future.

Photos below show the landscape through which these behemoths would traverse on their way to Alberta: the Columbia River Gorge and the wild and scenic river corridors of the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers in Idaho.

For more information and photos of the Alberta Tar Sands Mines check out these links:

The Rural People of Highway 12 Fighting Goliath

Guest column by Montana writer Annick Smith, in the Missoulian, Friday, October 15, 2010


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