Last Wednesday, conservationist photographer and former TEDx speaker Garth Lenz came to UC Davis to give his talk entitled “The True Cost of Oil” which explores the destruction of Canadian wildlife and oil sand mining.
Bituminous sands, which are a type of unconventional petroleum deposit and have only in recent years been considered part of the world’s oil reserves, are being extracted in an enormous mining and fracking-equivalent effort in Canada’s Boreal forest. The Boreal is the largest forest ecosystem on the planet, covering nearly 60 percent of the countries’ land and is being cut down and polluted by the mining efforts.
“Our prime minister had said that this is an incredible enterprise on the size of building the Great Wall of China or the pyramids,” Lenz said. “It’s wreaking a level of destruction we just haven’t seen before.”
The Boreal is home to some of nature’s largest wonders. It is home to nearly 400,000 caribou and an intricate network of rivers, contains half the migratory birds in North America, has the world’s largest freshwater delta and is considered the planet’s greatest terrestrial carbon dioxide sink.
The recent popularity of oil sands is due to the rising cost of traditional oil extraction.
“The price of oil has to get around $80 a barrel in order to get any profit,” Lenz said.
The numerous petroleum companies that are involved in the extraction effort are using two different methods to get to the tar-like oil trapped in the sands below the soil.
The first method is a simple mining effort that is so large that the trucks used for transporting the bitumen are 3,000 square feet, the size of a large house.
The second method is similar to hydro-fracking, which liquefies the bitumen so that it is easier to extract. This technique leaves huge non-lined pools of toxic waste as a byproduct.
Both approaches to extract the bitumen produce two times as much carbon as traditional oil extraction does. Per day, 250,000 tons of bitumen sand is processed.
“This is considered the world’s dirtiest oil,” Lenz said.
The oil extraction is having immediate consequences on the local first-nation populations which depend on the Boreal for their livelihood. Being so isolated, the cost of food is extremely high. As the forest is quickly cut down, many of the indigenous populations’ hunting and fishing grounds disappear.
Another consequence of the mining includes highly carcinogenic chemicals present in the toxic ponds that continue to show up in natural rivers in the Boreal. Cancer rates for very unusual and rare types of cancer are soaring in some communities.
“Oil companies plan on industrializing an area the size of Florida by 2030,” Lenz said.
Other projects that are being planned are an industrial highway and pipeline that would stretch from northern Alaska to oil refineries in and around Louisiana.
After his talk, Lenz answered questions from the audience.
“The Boreal and the Amazon are the lungs of the planet,” Lenz said.
TEDx talks are independently organized TED events. Lenz’s lecture was not part of TEDx, though UC Davis hosted a TEDx talk on May 19 that was titled “The Power of Perspective.”
MAX GARRITY RUSSER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.