Citizen Action Monitor

Tar Sands Hell – A personal narrative by a member of Lubicon Cree First Nation in Alberta

Melina Laboucan-Massimo works tirelessly to get the word out about the devastation in her community

No 528 Posted by fw, July 20, 2012

“The poisons that infest these tar sands mining operations are some of the nastiest in the petrochemical world, including highly dangerous compounds like mercury, arsenic and lead. As they are dumped into rivers that flow toward the Arctic and are spewed into the cold north winds that deposit them far and wide across the remote region—thanks to powerful wind and water currents that already make it a natural sink for global toxic emissions.” —(Source: In Canada’s Tar Sands, A Dante’s Hell Threatens People Nearby and Across the Globe, by Rocky Kistner, Switchboard/NRDC Staff Blog)

“Despite the fact that Canada prides itself on being a free and democratic society where local communities are respected and environmental regulations are superior to most nations – the sad fact is that Canada is from far from it.”Melina Laboucan-Massimo

Read and watch Melina Laboucan-Massimo’s story about the destruction of her native land in this embedded short video. Melina Laboucan-Massimo is a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation in Alberta, Canada, and a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. She is concerned about the impacts of tar sands development, saying, “What we’re seeing happening to the communities around these projects are elevated rates of cancers, as well as elevated rates of respiratory illnesses like emphysema and asthma because there’s air quality issues, there’s contamination to the water, destruction and complete fragmentation of the Boreal forest.”

Voices against Tar Sands from a Lubicon Cree First Nation Member and Environmental Campaigner   Published on Jun 22, 2012 by NRDCflix

In her testimony before Congress on March 20, 2012, Melina talked about the detrimental effects of the Alberta Tar Sands on her community. Here’s an extracted passage of her opening remarks, including her comments about the impact of one of the largest tar sands spills in history.

I am a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation, which is one of the many communities who are feeling the brunt of intense fossil fuel development due tar sands expansion. In the past 5 years I have worked with other communities in Northern Alberta and British Columbia that are very concerned about the approval of new tar sands pipelines due to potential spills, but also because it will increase pressure for more tar sands expansion in Alberta.

For those of us in Canada who are experiencing the detrimental effects of the Alberta Tar Sands, it is encouraging to see that many decision-makers and citizens in the United States are beginning to ask questions around whether or not the tar sands are the right direction we should be pursuing in an already carbon constrained world. We are particularly concerned about the looming threat of the expansion that would be enabled by the Keystone XL pipeline because, despite what you may have heard, the other proposed tar sands pipelines through British Columbia will not be built soon or ever. This is because even if they are approved, they will likely be tied up in the courts for many years due to constitutional challenges from affected First Nations, who have a unique legal status within the Canadian constitution.

I have personally felt the impacts of both pipeline spills, and the tar sands-driven industrialization of the landscape.

Last spring I returned home to where I was born to witness the aftermath of one of the largest oil spills in Alberta’s history. What I saw was a landscape forever changed by oil that had consumed a vast stretch of the traditional territory where my family had once hunted, trapped and picked berries and medicines for generations. Days before the federal or provincial government admitted that this had happened my family was sending me text messages telling me of headaches, burning eyes, nausea and  dizziness asking me if I could find out more information as to if it was an oil spill and how big it might be. This oil spill was from a multi-use pipeline which carried tar sands oil, sweet light crude as well as condensate. Due to the corrosive nature of tar sands oil it is no surprise that this was not the first major spill from this pipeline. In 2006 more than 1 million litres (7,500 barrels) was spilled and according to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) [now the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB)], “stress corrosion cracking and external coating failure caused the release.” [Note: The News Release 2007-14 referred to in Melina’s testimony, is no longer accessible online at ERCB’s website].

It wasn’t until the day after the federal election that the information was released of the magnitude of the spill – 28, 000 barrels or 4.5 million litres of oil had soaked the land – this is 50 per cent larger than the tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan the year before.

Soon afterward the story was swept under the carpet away from the eyes of the public yet it took until the end of the year for the official cleanup to be done, but just like in Michigan we know that the land and water in that area will never be the same.

One of the saddest and most frustrating points about this is that my family has not been the first nor will it be the last to experience this terrifying and intense situation when an oil spill happens nearby. We have seen a oil spills happen all over North America like the 12 leaks from the first phase of the Keystone during its first year of operation.

Despite the fact that Canada prides itself on being a free and democratic society where local communities are respected and environmental regulations are superior to most nations – the sad fact is that Canada is far from it.

Fair Use Notice: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing

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