'Tar Sands' vs. 'Oil Sands' Political Flap Misguided?

What to call Alberta's reserves is raising a fuss, but for wrong reason, research indicates.

By Geoff Dembicki, 25 Apr 2011,

Tar in gloved hands

Tell people this is oil sand and odds are they'll like it less than tar sand.


The debate over whether to use "oil sands" versus "tar sands" is about way more than terminology. And never has that been more obvious than during the current federal election.

Just last week, the Calgary Herald ran an editorial lambasting NDP leader Jack Layton for the word choice he made in week one of the campaign.


The term tar sands was more widely used than oil sands to describe Alberta's bitumen fields until the 1960s, when the provincial government made it a formal policy to call it oil sands.

Today, the Schlumberger Oilfield Glossary defines "tar sand" this way:

"A sand body that contains heavy hydrocarbon residues such as tar or asphalt, or degraded oil that has lost its volatile components. Hydrocarbons can be liberated from tar sands by heating and other processes, but tar sands, such as the Athabasca tar sands of Canada, are not commonly commercial because of high costs of production.

"Among some workers in the field of heavy oil, this term is falling out of use, in favor of the term 'oil sand.'"

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers website describes the term tar sands as a "colloquialism" and oil sands as "an accurate term." However the same CAPP site notes interchangeable usage over 70 years ago:

"The University of Alberta's library has a scanned copy of The History of Alberta Oil that quotes the December 1939 issue of The Pre-Cambrian:

"'The tar sands, or more properly the oil sands, of the McMurray area constitute probably the largest potential oil field in the world, and it has been the dream of many oil technologists to find an efficient and economic process of separating the oil from the sand in such a condition that it will be readily processed in a modern refinery into gasoline, diesel and fuel oil, and road oils..." -- Mr. L. C. Drummond, Secretary-Manager of the Alberta and North-West Chamber of Mines. Source: Peel's Prairie Provinces; University of Alberta Library.

What's The Tyee's policy on tar sands vs. oil sands? Agnostic. "I publish whichever term the writer chooses, no questions asked. We're not the Spanish Inquisition here," explains editor David Beers.

He'd said "tar sands" during a stop in Quebec -- a term the Herald claimed has "become part of the rhetoric of extremists who are anti-oil."

Anyone involved in the battle over Alberta's unconventional oil industry knows each term represents a distinct political position.

Both terms have been in use for well over half a century, and there was a time when even Albertan promoters of bitumen mining saw no slur in the word "tar sands" (see sidebar).

These days, environmentalists opposed to further development generally favour "tar sands" because it sounds dirtier. And industry and government stick to the supposedly more benign "oil sands."

Yet public survey research never before made public could turn the whole debate on its head.

As it turns out, suggests statistical data collected by Vancouver pollster Angus McAllister, neither position -- environmental or industry -- seems quite aware of how regular folks interpret the language.

"Both terms are being used consciously by different sides for a desired effect," McAllister told the Tyee. But after trying to get to the bottom of the question, he finds "no data whatsoever to show that using 'oil sands' makes Canadians more accepting of the industry or creates a positive impression."

In fact, there's evidence "oil sands" creates more concern in people's minds than "tar sands."

Layton speaks of 'dirty fuels'

Outside of Alberta, oil industry issues have barely surfaced in this federal election.

No party leader raised them during the April 12 national leadership debates. And so the few relevant statements made by federal leaders have been examined closely for weeks by Alberta media.

Certainly the most picked apart was Layton's "dirty fuels" pronouncement early in the election.

"Stephen Harper is handing billions to oil companies developing Canada's dirtiest energy sources, like the tar sands," the NDP leader said after a campaign stop in Montreal.

Layton promised to cancel those subsidies and has called for a "more measured pace of development."

Interestingly, the Calgary Herald didn't so much take issue with the statements themselves, as it did with his vocabulary.

"It's not what Layton said," read an editorial from early April. "It's the loaded and inaccurate language he used repeatedly, referring to the oil sands as 'dirty' and 'tar sands' -- a word that's part of the propaganda lexicon for radical environmentalists."

Obama's 'tar sands' blunder?

Only days later, U.S. president Barack Obama himself entered this language debate.

Responding to an audience question during a town-hall meeting in Pennsylvania, Obama set off another round of linguistic navel-gazing in oil rich Alberta.

"These tar sands," the president said, "there are some environmental questions about how destructive they are, potentially, what are the dangers there, and we've got to examine all those questions."

Did he really mean that awful word, "tar sands", asked the Calgary Herald, which to industry insiders is "the equivalent of dropping the f-bomb in church"?

In the Herald's news report, Alberta energy minister Ron Liepert concluded that no, Obama's slip up was probably just due to "naiveté."

"But of course," the minister added, "From an environmentalist standpoint, the word tar has a very negative connotation."

Nearly two weeks later, the Herald was still ruminating about Layton's and Obama's language choices.

"Tar sands is inaccurate and pejorative," wrote columnist Paula Arab.

She seemed willing to forgive Obama's "blunder" as an off-guard remark not intended to sully Alberta's oil industry.

But Layton, in her opinion, should have known better than take "cheap shots" from Quebec.

"At the end of the day, Canada has to engage the world in an informed discussion about the oil sands," Arab concluded. "It would help if politicians used the language correctly."

Assumptions challenged

So judging from this recent coverage, one might reasonably conclude that when regular Canadians encounter the word "tar sands", they think of a dirty, polluting industry.

And hearing their elected leaders say "oil sands" helps assuage such fears.

In fact, argues Vancouver pollster McAllister, that equation is backwards.

Two years ago, his firm, McAllister Opinion Research, tested each term on a random sample of 1,629 Canadians, the first time such polling had ever been done.

Half of those surveyed were asked to rate their concern about "Alberta oil sands" while the other half were asked about "Alberta tar sands."

For Canadians as a whole, 39 per cent said they were "very concerned" about the "oil sands" compared to 32 per cent for "tar sands."

"This language testing measure suggests that Canadians are more concerned about oil sands than tar sands, despite the latter being the lexicon favoured by environmental groups," a summary report reads.

That gap appeared to grow even greater the further respondents lived from Alberta.

In Vancouver, for instance, 14 per cent more participants identified the "oil sands" as an issue worthy of deep concern as opposed to "tar sands."

The disparity in Atlantic Canada was a full 19 percentage points. (Only in Alberta and Saskatchewan did "tar sands" elicit a more concerned response).

"Everybody thinks tar is worse," McAllister told the Tyee. "But when you look at the way language is used, people talk about oil spills, oil cartels, oil lobbyists, Big Oil. I've never heard people get upset about 'Big Tar' or 'Tar Tankers.'"

And it's precisely this long string of negative historical associations that makes people profoundly distrustful of anything relating to oil, he said.

Of course, McAllister is first to admit his figures are two years out of date. That's why he's currently repeating the test, and should have revised data in the next couple weeks.

But don't count on this language trend reversing, he said.

"There have been some very significant events since 2009. Think of the BP oil spill. Think of Enbridge's pipeline rupture. Those events will not have diminished the negative feelings people have for oil," McAllister said.     [Tyee]


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  • G West

    1 year ago

    Suck it up Alberta

    If you play with the Tar Baby you're going to get your hands dirty.

    On that point, the whole nation is being 'tarred' with the malign connection between Alberta and 'dirty oil'.

    As for the relative value of the names people use to label things, if 'TAR SANDS' doesn't upset our Alberta cousins and their enablers in the PMO, I'd like to ask why they get so upset whenever someone uses the term in print.

    Methinks their anger indicates something a little more significant than a debate over 'word choice'...McAllister Opinion Research and their two year old study to the contrary.

    A lot has changed in the last two years.

  • blackie

    1 year ago


    This semantic disagreement over "tar" vs. "oil" shows how ridiculous this debate is becoming, with both sides tenaciously clinging to their preferred terminology. I'm encouraged that the polling shows most people don't give a damn what you call it.

    I'm a little disappointed that such a long story never asked the question (and obviously didn't answer it either) about what the difference is between tar and oil. There must be a chemist out there somewhere who can help us out with that. Failing that, ya gotta ask -- what do you get out of this gooey mess when you process it? Tar? or oil.

    Seems there's some growing up to be done on both sides of this one.

  • Van Isle

    1 year ago

    And people on the

    And people on the 'Right-side' of the political sphere accuse the 'Left-side' of always trying to be politically correct?

  • reality_check

    1 year ago

    3/4 of the tailings can be recycled thanks to this company.

    Whether you like oil or not, let's be real! We need just for plastic stuff (and there is a lot of demand for that). Also, it is not reasonable to expect car companies to dismantle all their plants and change everything to electric cars. Don't take me wrong. I think electric is better, but it will take time before we get an electric Corolla as the technology is still not there. Give it 10 years. In the meantime, Titanium Corp. can recover 3/4 of the tailings and the water. Not as "clean" perhaps as wind and solar, but some of these processes use oil and energy to make too, unless Biosolar works out.

  • morechatter

    1 year ago

    Get Real

    We do not need plastic stuff we want plastic stuff and are prepared to destroy the planet and clutter it with enough plastic to cover the entire earth. There are 40 million plastic bottle that reach the dump each day along with the plastic that it came bagged in says changes need to be made showing some respect for mother earth before it is to late.

  • jnewcomb

    1 year ago

    layton, "sables bitumineux" and quebec

    Now that Layton climbing in Québec polls, people will be dissecting his comments more critically. Its interesting that Layton appears very much on-side with Québec nationalist aspirations. Part of the Québec spirit is generally that the pundits and élites are anti-tar sands (sables bitumineux), but there seems to be a disconnect in that many Quebecois are quite favourable towards the tar sands:

  • morechatter

    1 year ago

    "Bituminous sands"

    Bituminous sands, colloquially known as oil sands or tar sands, is a very questionable petroleum deposit.

    The Tar Sands "Mega Project" is the largest project in human history and also the most damaging. The tar sands procedure releases 3 times the CO2 emissions and the biggest offender when it comes to climate change.

    Tar sands projects will produce 3 million barrels of tar sands daily by 2018 using 5 barrels of water for each barrel of oil.

    Human health is also a serious problem as many allege the tar sands production has made them sick as rivers are said to be polluted with the production of the tar sands. The future holds more pipelines, refineries and tanker oil traffic on the seas crossing the continent in all directions to all three major oceans and the Gulf of Mexico, another real scare.

    The tar sands is mostly consumed in the United States and has helped fuel the wars against other oil producing nations such as Iraq, Venezuela, Iran and Libya.

  • Booker

    1 year ago

    calgary herald

    Could the Calgary Herald be more childish? This is the silliest complaint I've heard is a long time. It's just weird.

  • swizile

    1 year ago


    The Calgary Herald can't be considered a true newspaper during an election. They will do anything to promote the right wing agenda and anything Layton says will be discredited. The herald's opinion in this matter ranks lower than floor sweepings and once collected belongs in the same place.

  • morechatter

    1 year ago

    A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

    It is not the name that is the enemy but rather the production of tar sands that is doing in the environment that is the living end.

  • Conductor274

    1 year ago

    Tar sands and Harper's religion

    If you wonder why Stephen Harper has no concern about the pollution from the tar sands/oil sands look no further than his religious beliefs. Harper is a member of an evangelical church in Calgary, The Alliance Church, and they believe in the apocalypse. So the destruction of our environment due to fossil fuel use or any other pollution is NOT Harper's fault. According to them it's god's will and nothing we do or don't do can change the outcome.

    These evangelicals are not a mainstream religion. They are an extremist form of the christian religion. We need to be very worried because we've seen what happens when religious extremists get control of a government.

  • Okanagan Orchardist

    1 year ago


    If anyone else, like reality_check, thinks that the oil companies now involved in Alberta's tar sands will be able to clean up their act, I suggest you rent the documentary video put out by Green Peace, entitled "PETROPOLIS." Seeing the damage done to-date, and the size of the future area involved, will make you realize that the Tar Sands of Alberta will NEVER be repaired.

  • North of Hope

    1 year ago


    What is in a name? When this stuff is taken from the ground and the sand is removed, it looks like a black goo, just like tar. Hence the name tar sands. This is a very energy intensive process.
    When the black goo is distilled, processed and refined, we get many products. Some of them are oil, hence the name oil sands.
    Oil doesn't sound as dirty as tar so we have this name battle going on to pretend that this stuff is "clean." Tar sands is a better and more accurate name for this stuff. When I hear or read "oil sands" I think that someone is trying to greenwash the issue.

  • ccbye

    1 year ago

    get it straight

    ...seriously now,if it's an accurate representation of words we're looking for here I know I can think of a few better names for the "oil sands". Maybe the "Sands of Death", "Sands of Doom" or to be more crass, the ALberta "Sh*& sands" would better suffice!

  • reality_check

    1 year ago

    Ok orchardist and morechatter

    I think you should read again my post. I NEVER indicated that there was no pollution created by the oil sands, but there are ways to minimize the polution that oil sands' explotation creates. Sure! We don't need plastic. Last time I checked, computers, phones, TVs, and many other items are made out of plastic and would require a lot of energy and effort to create using other material (metals, for example). How much more? The reality is that BEFORE we phase out platics (if that can be done) and the combustion engine, tar sand exploitation can be cleaned up. Surely, you cannot be against that! Sure, you want ZERO everything NOW! But is it realistic? Dogmatism gets you nowhere. Extermism gets you nowhere. Moderation, common sense, and sensibilities lead to positive outcomes. All things cannot change in a second.

  • macsasquatch

    1 year ago

    A compromise term...

    ...Howz about calling it 'Ethical Energy Sands?'

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago

    Internal Prospective

    Have any of you ever been to Fort McMurray? I can tell you that no one is being poisoned and dying. Rivers aren't poison, and it isn't raining fire and brimstone. Tar-sands is not even remotely an accurate description. It's black goo that looks like tar? Really? By that logic Carbon Monoxide can be called air and Methanol can be called water. And we get offended by the term "Tar-sands", because it is an inaccurate slur intended to make it seem dirty. The reason Alberta and Sask. had inverse opinions in the poll than the other provinces is because the other provinces aren't the ones targeted to be offended by it. Just like a white person doesn't make as big a deal of the "N-word" as a black person. And the Herald is actually making a far bigger deal about Michael Ignatieff than Jack Layton, because he is trying to suck billions from our economy. The truth is, the oil sands project is only the biggest and worst because it is all linked as one. If you link a whole bunch of coal plants together you'll get bad numbers too. And the oil sands are already the biggest example of pollution reduction techniques and regulation in the world. It is less efficient than regular oil and it is bad for the environment, yes that is true. But it is not nearly as evil as it is made out to be. As for that Greenpeace documentary, Greenpeace is the most radical environmental group in the world, they try and create environmental controversy, so everything they publicize is just as biased as asking a Fort Mac oil Baron. The oil sands already have a bad name, so they are an easy target. Just to summarize and clarify, I'm not arguing that the oil sands are perfect, efficient, or clean. I'm arguing that they are negatively slandered, and that these accusations are exaggerated. Sands of Doom? Seriously? Grow up. And a closing thought piece, to go along with what i believe "macsasquatch" is saying, our oil costs money and CO2, but so far we haven't been invaded by Saddam or Bush, so it hasn't cost any lives. We may have dirty oil but I would rather that than bloody oil. I know this comment is going to offend a few of you and I apologize if it does, I assure you that is not my intent, so please don't go on a personal offensive. On the other hand if you have a mature point to make, please do.

  • G West

    1 year ago

    oh really Fratzog440

    Seems to me you need to get out more - not a single fact in your post - and I haven't even mentioned the social costs of living in a place like Fort Mac.

    Here's a little piece on that - origingally published in the Calgary Herald:

    Those pokes mature enough for you?

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago

    G west

    I'm sorry if I was unclear but you really misunderstood my comment. I'm not defending Oil-Sands production. I agree we need to invest more in Hydro, Solar, and Geothermal energy. I'm just stating that the controversy surrounding the oil-sands is exaggerated by the media to seem worse than it is. It is bad, yes, but its not singlehandedly destroying the earth at an alarming rate. I'm tired of Alberta getting all the blame when it is only part of the problem.

    For curiosity's sake, though, what exactly about my comment wasn't true?

    And when did I even mention anything about drugs or the social situation in FM?

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago

    Environmental Progress

    It isn't perfect yet. But it is rapidly improving itself more than any other industry

  • North of Hope

    1 year ago

    My visit

    Fratzog440 says, "Have any of you ever been to Fort McMurray? I can tell you that no one is being poisoned and dying. Rivers aren't poison, and it isn't raining fire and brimstone."
    I have. When we went to visit the tar sands, we were not allowed into one plant because it was closed due to poisonous emissions that made it too dangerous to visit. We went into the other plant and had a tour of it. I must say that the most foul smell I have ever experienced was the tailings pond at these plants.

  • pwlg

    1 year ago

    bituminum bearing sands

    In 1974 a patent was filed with the US Patent Office under the name:

    "Composition and method for separating bituminous constituents from bituminum-bearing sands"

    In the introduction to this patent application the term "tar sands" was used.

    From the patent document:

    "Compositions and methods for separating bituminous constituents from bituminum-bearing sands, commonly known as "tar sands"..."

    Just who is revising terminology here? I am shocked at how the far right at the Herald have all of the sudden become proponents of politically correct jargon.

    The term "tar sands" was always commonly used and it is only in the last decade that the tar sands industry through their contracted strategic communication teams revised the terminology to "oil sands".

    But give it to the far right for trying to make us believe that the term "tar sands" was invented by "radical environmentalists".

    If you make enough noise, as the Herald and its hacks are famous for, you might just get Calgary residents to believe you.

    By the way, very few Albertans have ever been to Fort McMurray. There are more BC, Ontario and especially Newfoundland/Labrador residents who have been there than Albertans.

    The comment regarding the environment of Ft. McMurray is true to some degree given that most of the developments are 1 hour or more north of the town and some up to 4 hours southeast of town near the Saskatchewan border.

  • pwlg

    1 year ago

    obama naivete?

    The above article stated, "In the Herald's news report, Alberta energy minister Ron Liepert concluded that no, Obama's slip up was probably just due to "naiveté."

    Obama used the term "tar sands" due to the fact that the US Government uses the term in its reports.

    Ms. Arab should know this was not a "blunder" on Obama's part and had the Herald used its research staff, if they even have a research staff, they would have found that as late as 2008, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), prepared a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for Oil Shale and Tar Sands resources on lands administered by the BLM in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

    To this day, the "radical" staff of the US Dept of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, uses the term "tar sands".

    The "radical environmentalists" at the US Department of Energy's Office of Petroleum Reserves have published a fact sheet on "U.S. Tar Sands Potential".

    Oh, the naivete, oh, the blunder!

  • freebear

    1 year ago

    Bad Bitumen; Sandy Oil, Hazardous Hydro carbon

    Canada, the next energy super power according to Harper!

    We all know what eventually happens to super powers!!

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago

    North of Hope, Morechatter, PWLG

    Yes, I realize the old plants are dangerous. In the past, production techniques were horrible. It has only been recently that companies have started their clean-up operations, which have been largely successful. Hopefully they will continue their success for years to come. The original point I was commenting on in this case was made by "morechatter", about the towns in the surrounding area having toxic water.

    "Human health is also a serious problem as many allege the tar sands production has made them sick as rivers are said to be polluted with the production of the tar sands."

    I have another problem with "morechatter"'s comment:

    "Tar sands projects will produce 3 million barrels of tar sands daily by 2018 using 5 barrels of water for each barrel of oil."
    - The new SAGD techniques which will be taking over the majority of production in coming years use no potable water at all. They reuse the same non-potable water continuously.

    PWLG, I agree that Mr. Obama is not Naive for using the term "Tar-sands", because it is the official term used by his government. But I believe they should consider changing to the more accurate "Oil-Sands". Because even though they have been commonly known as tar sands for a long time, it is not a proper term. Tar is a rather small component of the oil sand.

  • Keye

    1 year ago

    Vote Green to Curb Tar Sands Development

    Here is an opportunity for the residents of Saanich-Gulf Islands to give Canada a very special gift, the gift of sending Elizabeth May to parliament next Monday. The rest of the country relies on this one small riding to do something special in the history of this nation.


    Platform policy on Tar Sands:

    Note for animal lovers: the Green platform also commits to addressing the appalling animal welfare and cruelty issues across Canada:

  • G West

    1 year ago

    @ Fratzog440 I thought it was obvious

    You posted this: "I can tell you that no one is being poisoned and dying..."

    And I responded with information which showed that it was you posting hyperbole AND that people ARE dying, having their health adversely affected AND living in an area where there are ENORMOUS social problems - again created by the TAR SANDS gold rush mentality.

    As for the 'benefits' to the Alberta economy, there have been numerous studies of the effect that too much of a good thing (especially from the oil industry) is DESTRUCTIVE to the local economy and especially to domestic manufacturing.

    It's called the Dutch disease and, if you'll look around at a couple of Andrew Nikiforuk's excellent pieces here at Tyee you'll see I've posted a link to a study which indicates quite clearly that Canada and Alberta are suffering from the effects of this affliction.

    I'm not the one lighting my hair on fire my friend and I'm not the one who seems determined to ignore the environmental AND economic effects of TAR SANDS development by saying, essentially, 'It's not as bad as it could be!'


  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago

    G West

    We are talking about two different topics. People dying from Drugs is not the point at hand. When people have a lot of extra money, they buy coke. This isn't a problem with Bitumen production. Its a problem with society in general. By your logic, people are also being poisoned and dying from any paying job. It is an indirect effect of the excess money, and the people who have it, not the oil sands. The original point made was that the oil production was directly poisoning people. Which is a strong hyperbole. And you think the oil industry is harmful to Albertans and our economy? Well I rather enjoy the high income and I enjoy not having PST. Every other province in Canada enjoys the billions of dollars of equalization payments.

    And I am not saying "It's not as bad as it could be", Everyone else is saying it is worse than it is and I am simply stating that even though it is bad, its not as bad as it is made out to be. Using modern production methods it produces only 10% more GHGs than conventional oil and the efficiency of production is always increasing. Conventional light crude is getting harder and harder to access, and biofuels are still in developmental stages. So, for the time being, we need the heavy oil. At least until we can replace it with third-generation Biofuels like Algae Oil.

  • G West

    1 year ago

    You're joking, right?

    You cannot be unaware of the real situation:

    People are MOST CERTAINLY dying - perhaps you don't care to acknowledge it but they certainly are. The Athabasca River is being poisoned by Tar Sands activities and the people of Fort Chippewa are suffering and dying from it...

  • G West

    1 year ago

    Do a little research into the Dutch disease

    It's also called the paradox of plenty in some academic articles - maybe start with the article I posted earlier...once you've done that we can talk.

    I'm sure there are lots of short-sighted Albertans who can't see past their next steak dinner - there were plenty of those sorts of people around when I lived there - it would be naive to suggest that they've learned much in the interim.

    As I said, do some research.

  • OwlRol

    1 year ago

    A turd by any other name...

    Oil sands, tar sands, bitumen laden sands, who cares. I've seen it and I've smelled it, disgusting stuff. Surely toxic but perhaps not so noticeable in the short term, shareholders' minds. They don't live there.

    If its such a valuable product, why are we shipping it nasty raw to Texas and likely soon to China rather than refining it on site or nearby?

    How much have Albertans really gained on this since the P. Lougheed days? Doggy droppings.

    And if the claim of more than 100 years of fuel in the tar sands is true, why do we need to do hyper risky arctic off-shore drilling? Where is the greed scam centred?

    Plastics we need, but not the disposable, throw away sort that are fowling our lands and oceans. And burning this stuff is even more toxic and wasteful.

    Sad that China and even Texas are moving ahead of most of Canada, (except maybe Quebec and to a lesser extent, Ontario) on the development of renewable energy production.

    This federal govt. is doing next to nothing on this file, aside from "Greenwash". If anything, they are an impediment to renewables while they provide billions in subsidies to big oil. And the previous Libs were little better.

    Who cares what its called, no more expansion on these Boreal plains. The bitumen's not going anywhere except when we choose to remove it.

    Neither are the big oil companies, they've got nowhere better to go, even if they lost the subsidies and had to pay more tax.

    There's lots of good jobs in renewables if they're given a solid chance.

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago

    G West

    Ok that article said essentially nothing, other than that the RAMP and these other researchers disagree. And even if there are raised toxin levels which I'm sure there are, again its blown out of proportion. The oil sands have been harvested for roughly 45 years and only in the last 15-20 have they been improving safety and techniques by any significant factor. So of course there are leftover side effects. But now they are making huge strides in improving the process. And as for your comment about short sighted Albertans, well I have lived in Alberta my whole life, my father has been in the Alberta oil industry since the early 70s. How many times do you think we had a lapse of planning cave in on us? How many times did we suffer from working with our resources? None. Ever. Even in the recession we were perfectly stable. Because we always plan ahead. So far you have almost exclusively pointed out character flaws in people. What will reading an article about Dutch Disease teach me about my entire life?

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago


    You people seem to be accusing me of outright denying any negative effect of the oil sands which is not true at all. I have said it many times, I know these problems exist. They are just portrayed to be worse than they are.

  • Fish-counter

    1 year ago

    Typical Canadian hair-splitting crap; should be an Olympic event

    Tar Sands, Schmar Sands.

    World-class pollution by any other name, is still pollution. The SO2 stack at Sudbury was the world's largest single point source of pollution in its day. So Fort McMurray now owns that distinction. Big deal. They are welcome to it. Embrace it.

    If anyone doubts the actual SIZE of the Tar Sands, they should go there and rent a plane for a couple of hours. Just driving around Lloydminster (or is it Lloydminister?)is enough to make me gag. You gotta love those iron horses, pumping the heavy oil. They are lovely. Just bloody lovely.

    Gerry Potts and David Thompson would love to see them. "So THAT is why we came here?" they would say. "I don't think so".

  • G West

    1 year ago

    Umm ---nothing?

    I assume YOU actually know something about what's going on in your own province.

    Apparently you don't.

    This article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail - I can't get you the original link but this should do the trick:

  • G West

    1 year ago

    Fratzog, since you don`t seem to have found this for yourself

    Here`s something on the Dutch disease:

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago

    G West

    First off, I didn't realize the situation in Ft.Chipewyan was that bad, but the article you linked said itself that there are a number of other factors contributing, such as Uranium and a poor diet. It also says that the oil sands companies are greatly exceeding the government safety standard. Allowing only 13% of the approved amount of pollutants to enter the river. And that the water is safe to drink. So that article has speculated that oil sands are the problem while factually stating that they are not the major contributor.

    Second, I misunderstood your previous explanation of Dutch Disease. I was thinking of it on strictly national terms, rather than the world market, so I am sorry for being stubborn on that point. I was already aware of the problem just had not heard a formal name for it. But now that I better understand what you are getting at, I believe it may affect the manufacturing industry in the rest of the country, but not Alberta as much. Alberta has rather minimal production of finished goods. Most of our industry is in raw materials. So Albertans get oil money and buy American products rather than Canadian, to save some money, and it doesn't have a large local impact. So yes I agree that many Albertans are narrow minded in that sense. And the fewer domestic products people buy, the lower the availability and the problem will keep perpetuating itself.

    This may be a tangent but I feel it is related:
    People everywhere need to start practicing sustainable living in general. Not just with energy but with everything. Food is a big one, tons of fuel is burned transporting food across the world when it doesn't need to be. And tons of preservative chemicals are added to our food. I think everyone should try and get back to buying locally produced food and goods, and using sustainable energy, even just for little things. Yes we all want imported luxuries, and vegetables are not growable here in winter, but if everyone makes an effort to be a little more sustainable in life, it will make a huge difference. Home and business heating and electricity accounts for over 30% of worldwide GHG emissions, and this usage can be greatly reduced. I'm doing my part, I buy all my beef from the local 4H club, pork from my friend's farm, chicken from the Hutterite colonies, and I grow my own vegetables all summer. My house climate control is set to stay cold during the day while I'm at work, as well as at night while I'm sleeping. Only heating during the times I am active at home, and my garage is powered by a small solar cell and several old RV batteries. Setting up a home like this is not difficult, and it saves a great deal of money in the long run. And eating local food is healthier, better quality food, while supporting the local economy.

  • G West

    1 year ago

    Thank you...

    All the evidence, and it's excellent medical evidence, points to a clear conjunction between the situation in Fort Chip and Tar Sands extraction and increasingly high use of water which is reducing peak flows all year round in the Athabasca River.

    The close connection between the oil industry and the agencies charged with monitoring the effects on the environment in the province of Alberta, not to mention the consanguinity between Alberta politics at both the provincial and the federal level and the industry makes any critical observer (like myself) extremely skeptical when someone posts the kind of thing you did in your initial offerings.

    Having become used to the interposition of, for lack of a better term, Tar Sands apologists into the debate here at the Tyee I'll suggest that, given your current post, you may have gotten Tarred with the wrong brush.


    This country is in a whole lot of trouble - not least because we are increasingly a mono-economy.

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago

    Peace Talks

    I'm glad we finally seem to agree on the situation, or at least understand each other. I agree it is plausible that the health problems in Ft C have been partially caused by the oil industry, but not entirely. Several factors have combined into a sort of climax there, chiefly heavy metals from oil and uranium production. And I realize that an outside observer could take my posts differently than I intended. So its good we have settled that. Because I do greatly believe in working towards renewable energy production. But it isn't realistic to expect it right now. And I also take it personally when Alberta is accused of terrible crimes. Because even though it was the worst industry in the world in the 70s, it has recently become one of the most ambitious clean-up projects in history. But the bad reputation has stuck.

    So as a closing statement I will say this. The oil-sands are not as clean as conventional oil. But they are improving and are no longer as dirty as their reputation implies. And for the time being, they will have to do, while we build more sustainable energy infrastructure and develop sustainable Biofuels.

    An interesting article about sustainable Bio-fuel:

  • caber1

    1 year ago

    If it is oil why do they

    If it is oil why do they need all that steam just to make it flow?
    Should really call it "Death of Northern Alberta" sands.

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago


    It is oil. When most people think oil they think Light Crude, flowing freely, but this isn't always the case. Oil sands are sand saturated with oil. Its still oil, just not flowing. Your talking about using steam to liquify it which means your probably talking about CSS or SAGD drilling. Both of which have small areas of disturbance and SAGD recycles non-potable water for steam. Both massive improvements on surface mining. Your suggesting that the steam techniques are killing Alberta but SAGD is saving it.

  • Countrytype

    1 year ago

    I believe the whole point of

    I believe the whole point of the tar/oil terminology issue is that it distracts from what is actually being DONE up there and builds up a sense that opponents are just being mean for kicks using the longstanding 'tar' term that I remember clearly from highschool and university. REbranding is not going to change the nature of what is being mined and what is happening to it, but the fuss can sway politics into a 'your're with us or against us' mentality key to preventing dissent in Albertan and pro-oil communities.
    "Who cares what its called, no more expansion on these Boreal plains. The bitumen's not going anywhere except when we choose to remove it.

    Neither are the big oil companies, they've got nowhere better to go, even if they lost the subsidies and had to pay more tax.

    There's lots of good jobs in renewables if they're given a solid chance."

    I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment! With oil prices as they are now, the Canadian government could halt oilsands and oil subsidies and tax credits entirely, leaving the industry to continue with its record profits, and instead make an enormous difference to the growth of green energy infrastructure with the one-time fossil manufacturing injection that then weans us off gas for electricity and oil for heat for years to come.

    As far as "the most ambitious cleanup project" goes, I'll believe it when I see it. After all, if they weren't the worst and largest pollution site available with the most political power, they wouldn't be seen as so ambitious to even begin controlling themselves. Half measures are ambitious in this industry as it stands now in terms of practice, oversight quality and impact modelling.

    It will be interesting to see the rates of cancer coming out of bitumen-exposed workers in the future. If science teachers of the 1970s had higher rates of skin and organ cancer according to the STAO, I imagine that bitumen refinery workers and anyone exposed to regular vapors and dusts from the tar sands will also be at higher risk, however pleasant their financial outlook is now.

    I may be wrong, but I think I recall that oil developments are exempt from publicly posting their various chemical emissions over 10 tonnes per year on the National Pollutant Release Inventory accessible through the Environment Canada website. For an idea of what might be killing people after a few decades of workplace exposure, look there and correlate with a google search of MSDS and human exposure levels.

    Also, I doubt that a disagreement between RAMP and peer-reviewed researchers on matters of scientific practice can ever settle in RAMP's favour outside of pro-oil rhetoric. You either believe in good science, or you don't.

  • Countrytype

    1 year ago

    Downstream contamination and water quality issues

    I don't mind using oil, I just want other options and for oil to be managed as safely as it can be. Why can't those record profits aid a transition in a meaningful way?

    The idea that a spike in rare cancers and tumorous fish, odd smelling and fuel-tasting fish and wetlands and waters is natural or due to a preexisting uranium and oil industry is wishful thinking. And even if the water is 'safe' to drink, you should know that PAH and other fossil toxins bind to fats and carbon-based materials upon contact, concentrating there and never to be reabsorbed by water. That doesn't mean that contact with water won't hurt you through the transfer of poisons that never leave your body, concentrating in the wild food chain that is the usual diet up there. It makes me feel sick to think about it.

  • Countrytype

    1 year ago


    Fratzog 440 said "Because I do greatly believe in working towards renewable energy production. But it isn't realistic to expect it right now."

    Well, with record oil profits, when will it be realistic any other time? As demand goes up and extraction costs go up there might be a few moments of profit flattening, but like fishing the last fish, there will never be a time when reinvestment isn't the more profitable option than getting the renewables going. "realpolitik" based on that investment mindset is realistically setting up oil dependence. It's not the best or only way unless imagination about better ways of having a good and prosperous life is lacking in the population. What about reinvestment in our own interests - industries other than oil and crossborder shopping? Is heaven the number of RVs and snowmachines, mall trips and Vegas trips? If you don't reinvest in things other than this for your children it's a sign that you think you are at the pinnacle of what humans can achieve.

    And then Fratzog440 said "And I also take it personally when Alberta is accused of terrible crimes. Because even though it was the worst industry in the world in the 70s, it has recently become one of the most ambitious clean-up projects in history. But the bad reputation has stuck." And I note that your dad works in it and I understand how hard it must be to feel that he is implicated in those attacks, and yourself as a beneficiary of that oil-paid good living... They call it motivated reasoning. It's hard to sacrifice for something that you didn't personally cause, especially when the potential benefits of thinking nothing is wrong with your current approach are financially high and mentally simple.

    Dutch disease is all about thinking you could never realistically have it better. The financiers and politicians they pay in charge of oil like it that way, cause you'll sit complacently by while they have their way with the water of the Athabasca basin and others the pipelines cross as well as the climate. They don't believe in anything but money and fantasy islands to retire to. They hope the rest of us aspire to the same.

    It's not terribly difficult to hold a different view, there are many quiet opponents. We should have a chance to make and buy the future we want too, not just give it all away to oil and consumerism.

  • G West

    1 year ago


    I still maintain the historically accurate and honest term is the Tar Sands...if you take the time to research the history of Alberta and the Northwest Territories (which is what the place was called before it became Alberta) you'll find that it has always been the Tar Sands.

    It was only when the environmental destruction and degradation of the first Tar Sands up-graders came to light that some PR type decided that the 'tar' association was damning and started down the politically correct course of 're-branding' the sludge as the 'oil sands'.

    That's why the actions of those who contest that PR move to demonize those who have continued to use the 'tar' term is so laughable and, frankly, dishonest.

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago


    I don't know how many times I can blatantly state this. I am openly acknowledging the downfalls of the oil industry. Nobody ever said nothing was wrong, even the CEOs of Suncor and Syncrude have acknowledged there is something wrong. That is why they have been improving their methods and funding clean-up. My main point this entire time is that everyone concentrates on the results of when the industry was younger, when nobody cared about the environment. Nobody concentrates on the vast effort they are making to clean it up. Suncor is spending millions on reclaiming the old tailings ponds, transitioning from large destructive strip mines to steam drilling with very little disturbance, and recycling non-potable water instead of using fresh water. It WAS the worst industry in the world. And now they have to fix it. So they have begun massive clean-up projects. All this takes time. Right now SAGD drilling is only 10% less efficient than "clean" oil. And there are many companies developing better methods. It WAS as bad as its made out to be. But not anymore. And totally renewable energy isn't realistic right now at all. You can't replace all of the coal plants in the world with solar plants overnight. It is a large endeavour that will take time to transition into, it is a slow and steady process. And the oil companies are working on it too. For example, Exxon-Mobil, Shell, and Boeing have teamed up to work on the development of Algae Oil fuel. The most promising modern Biofuel. Algae can grow in environments unsuitable for other plants, it consumes a huge amount of CO2, and it releases usable oil and clean oxygen, so the production of fuel will actually clean the environment. They have already started flight testing on algae powered airliners. When I say it is not realistic right now, what I am getting at is that it isn't realistic to expect complete renewability right now, we can expect the process but not an immediate solution. But research and development are going strong and the transition is happening.

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago

    G west

    Tar-sands may be the older term. But the point remains that it is not tar. There is some tar in it, but a minimal amount. Oil-sands doesn't just sound nicer. It is a more accurate description of what the sand actually is.

  • G West

    1 year ago

    But it's historically accurate...and HONEST

    And, in that accuracy and truth to its origins (as well as the depredation it is wreaking in the environment, Canada's reputation and the mess it is making of our economy) the term TAR SANDS is the one all honest people should use.

    People who are not blind to the kind of society that Alberta is - a racist, selfish and, from my point of view, essentially un-Canadian place.

    I don't want to improve this industry - I want to slow it down AND STOP exporting any oil that comes from the place.

    If we need some of it (bad as it is) to meet our own needs that is fair game; to ship it to other countries for the benefit of foreign owned and controlled corporations that will walk away from their responsibilities here at the moment that the industry is no longer profitable is purblind insanity.

    Especially since it will decimate our manufacturing industry, increase the value of our dollar and make us victims of the Dutch Disease if we don't wake up soon.

    It's nasty stuff and it makes me ashamed as a Canadian that so many of my countrymen are blind to what they're supporting.

  • zalm

    1 year ago


    Don't forget about the proposed increase in water withdrawals from the Athabaska system that are now at 11% of winter flow levels, and set to triple in the next decade. Fish stranding, increased concentrations of toxins, watercourse changes in the navigable portion, drying out of the productive wetlands at the Arctic Ocean - all these and more coming to an industrial site near you....

    Oh, how I wish more recoverable water could be used in the process. But the thermal processes are already at 80% of recoverable and the chemical processes aren't even being worked on right now (sewer, solids treatment, maintenance etc.) That's why OPTI is going broke - the high cost of reuse is breaking them on a project that was only marginal to begin with.

    And let's not even talk about the royalty schedule, which is what's supposed to benefit the Alberta taxpayer you seem to regard as so resourceful, economical, and informed.

  • zalm

    1 year ago


    I remember as a teenager having a subscription to Popular Science on which was touted at least once a year from the 1950s onward the benefits of the "tar sands"....

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago


    Ok guys this discussion has been interesting but, honestly, it has become trying to teach evolution in a church. Neither side will ever accomplish anything. And 1 Albertan oil kid arguing his point on a BC news site is rather one sided and useless. So I'm going to leave the discussion. I will just continue living sustainably and buying local products, while ALSO enjoying low taxes and high pay, provided by the industry that is NOT killing me.

    But I have been thinking and I will say this for you. Your hatred for the oilsands is actually helping them. Because the more people bitch about how evil the oil sands are, the more time and money Suncor will put into improving themselves. So I guess this kind-of reverses the point of my original statement, but please keep making a big deal and slandering the industry, because if enough people do, then the large companies will have to clean more to save their reputation. And cleaning is always good.

  • G West

    1 year ago



    Really. I don't think so - I'd say my reason for responding to your initial post has been pretty much reinforced by the intervening dialogue.

    I'm sorry you think yourself a poor misunderstood Albertan waging an unequal battle against a few anonymous commentators on a 'BC' news site.

    I'll remember that the next time I pick up the Globe and see the full page full colour advertisements for Alberta's dirty business; or half the pages in Macleans.

    Sure is an unequal battle.

    I'll also recall the same attitudes you've exhibited here as being pretty typical of what I often encountered among Albertans when I lived there and would try to point out to them there was another world out there beyond the mountains and the oil fields. A place where people spoke French and German and Swahili and made a living doing something other than playing step and fetch it for Americans from Denver.


    As for the reputation of the oil giants and their sleaze ridden investors like the Koch Brothers - don't bet your future on those bozos - they be long gone and leaving you Albertans with the clean up bills.

  • bagkitty

    1 year ago

    Equally valid?

    Born and raised in Calgary (1959) - from the late 60s and through the 1970s all references to the area that I was ever exposed to was the Athabasca TAR sands (in school and most particularly from the Lougheed government who were promoting the development of the same). Any reference to "oil" sands always rings false in my ears - it is a strange revision of usage that I heard for the first time sometime in the late 1990s. I object to the revision on what are essentially small "c" conservative grounds...

  • Fratzog440

    1 year ago

  • G West

    1 year ago

    You're joking, right?

    You're quoting the Council on Foreign Relations as a resource concerning the Tar Sands, CO2 and climate change?

    Surely you jest.

    ...membership of the CFR includes past Presidents, Ambassadors, Secretaries of State, Wall Street investors, international bankers, foundation executives, think tank executives, lobbyist lawyers, NATO and Pentagon military leaders, wealthy industrialists, journalists, media owners and executives, university presidents and key professors, select Congressmen, Supreme Court Justices, Federal Judges, wealthy entrepreneurs, and as many as ten 9-11 Commission Members.

    ... the CFR has a reputation as one of the "triumvirate of elite organizations" together with the Bilderberg and the Trilateral Commission. Elitism doesn't necessarily preclude the ability to provide unbiased and useful service - but, as a source of unbiased scientific informarion it would have to be said that its views on the Tar Sands and Climate change are about as useful as the industry sponsored 'watchdogs' the Alberta government relies upon for support.

    Carroll Quigley, Professor of History at Georgetown University, stated, "The Council of Foreign Relations is the American Branch of a society which originated in England and believes national boundaries should be obliterated and one-world rule established."

    They hold regular private meetings including members, and very select guests. Occasionally they will hold a public meeting, and invite the open press (including C-SPAN). The image of the CFR as a closed-shop bi-partisan discussion forum for the foreign policy establishment has fuelled criticism that the organisation and its members are controlling world policy and events.

    In 1938 the Council created numerous Committees on Foreign Relations throughout the county, in 1995 the Committees became a separate organization under the umbrella of the American Committees on Foreign Relations in Washington D.C..

    I think you need to restart your educational program by reading Nikiforuk's book 'Tar Sands'....

    In fact, if you'll reply to this email address I'll send you a copy:

  • freebear

    1 year ago

    T-Rex sands?

    Fossil fools!

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