Taking Canadian Highway 63 straight north from Fort McMurray, during the half-lit hours of the morning commute, I moved past the old downtown, with its bars and weekly-rate hotels, past the sprawling suburbs and high-speed ring road, into expanses of peat-rich muskeg and forests of tamarack and spruce. As the sun climbed, cars became scarce and the road seemed to stretch endlessly toward the horizon. Traveling from McMurray to McKay doesn’t take long—it’s less than 40 miles—but the transformation you see in that short distance is astounding.
For several months, bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands has been leaching out of the ground near Cold Lake, Alberta, so far amounting to roughly half of the oil leaked in the Enbridge-caused disaster in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Nearby sites of high-pressure steam injection used to extract the bitumen (and which is already associated with violent seismic activity in natural gas fracking operations) are suspected to have caused fractures that push bitumen "sideways" and out to the surface. As Vice reporter Sarah Berman notes, "The oozing leaks will continue until the underground pressure subsides. How long that will take is anybody’s guess." While tons of contaminated vegetation and dead animals have been removed from the sites, access to the region and to government data by First Nation representatives has been repeatedly denied.
A series of emails released through a Freedom of Information Act request shine light on collusion between the United States government and TransCanada, a corporation building a controversial pipeline from the Canadian Athabasca oil sands into its southern neighbor. The controversy extends beyond the currently poor safety record for delivering oil between the two countries, and beyond the environmental and health consequences of the oil extraction process for locals and the cost of climate changes it will contribute to, all the way to legal wrangling between Canadian media and Saudi Arabia over the "death panels"-like term "ethical oil", based upon a conservative group's advertising that argues that the purchase of Canadian-sourced oil is a morally superior act, because of oppression of women and human rights violations by the Saudi kingdom.
Black Gold in Alberta. The tar sands located in northern Alberta, containing 85% of the worlds bitumen could provide for america's oil needs for the next century. The trillion barrell oil pit will continue to grow in importance as the price of oil continues to climb, and investors from around the world pour billions of dollars into the rich dirt.