Suncor Energy, Inc. was fined US$805,000 yesterday for environmental infractions at the company's northern Alberta oil sands operations.
Apparently, the company didn't install pollution control equipment at its Firebag project, then kept that information from environmental authorities. Investigators also found that a subcontractor released partially treated wastewater into the Athabasca River between 2005 and 2007.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the water issues associated with oil sands operations in Alberta.
As it is, these plants use between two and four barrels of water to extract one barrel of oil. And once that water has funneled through the production process, it is toxic, and cannot be released back into the environment. Sure, some of it is reused. But a significant amount is pumped into large settlement ponds, where extremely high levels of heavy metals reside.
And it gets worse.
According to a University of Toronto and University of Alberta study, the projected expansion of these oil sands projects could actually kill the Athabasca River. This is the only abundant source of water in the area. The study warned that using the necessary amount of water from the Athabasca River for the projected extraction of bitumen would threaten the water supply of two northern territories, 300,000 aboriginal people and the Mackenzie River Basin, which is Canada's largest watershed.
I know, I know. Some folks don't want to hear about the environmental issues surrounding oil sands operations. Especially when we're constantly talking about energy independence. But how "independent" are we if we're willing to trade our water supplies for oil supplies? This is not an acceptable "cost of doing business."
This is, however, just one more reason to support a stronger integration of electric vehicles, mass transit, and advanced biofuels that utilize non-food feedstocks which are grown responsibly and do not require excessive water or energy inputs.