Given their inextricable enmeshment, it’s curious how often removed stories about the Planet are from stories about the human beings who occupy it. A testimony to the extraordinary human capacity for denial, we stay on our respective imaginary ideological islands where the purity of say, a human rights advocate is not made to mingle with that of an environmentalist.


When I visited the Tar Sands in Canada, I discovered first hand what an absurd division this is. Unlike separating bitumen from the sand in which it lies, one cannot extricate our treatment of each other from our treatment of the Earth. This story seeks to implicate the two, allowing a natural interface whereby the geography of a face inheres the geography of the space it occupies.


The oil story belongs to us all and yet, when I first arrived at the Tar Sands I encountered something of an alien place to which I felt little connection. The landscape was vast and cold and finding an intimate point of entry seemed impossible. Yet after being there for three weeks I realized that this was as human an account as there is to tell.


In our interconnected global world, this is a story as much about polluted dreams as it is about polluted water. It reveals the decayed terrain of human avarice while it exposes the degraded terrain of the mining site. It seeks to capture the worker’s thirst for dignity, as it exposes the global thirst for energy, at all costs.


Additionally, The Tar Sands has tried to show how the production of oil operates in mutual regard with a consumer society that drives it. Many of the residents in Fort McMurray were concerned that this would just be another negative story about the oil industry, and reflect poorly on their town. This was voiced time and again. Out of respect for their concern, Here, I have tried as much as possible to tell the whole tale and connect the dots. Yes, there is great environmental destruction and impact by the mining of the land, and yet we are all complicit. I fill my car more than once a week with at least 15 gallons of gasoline. I am a part of this story and tried to take that attitude when telling it.


The oil sands of Alberta, Canada, represent the second largest source of crude oil in the world, behind Saudia Arabia. Canada is now the largest supplier of oil to the United States which in turn is the largest consumer of oil in the world. In 2006, bitumen production averaged 1.25 million barrels per day (200,000 m3/d) through 81 oil sands projects, representing 47% of total Canadian petroleum production. This proportion is expected to increase in coming decades as bitumen production grows while conventional oil production declines. Beneath an area the size of the Montana are an estimated 170.4 billion barrels of crude oil. Unlike conventional crude oil, which is pumped from deep within the earth, oil sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water and bitumen, found near the surface. Mining and refining the oil sands is an expensive, resource intensive process, (About two tons of oil sands are required to produce one barrel (roughly 1/8 of a ton) of oil) but with the rise in the price per barrel of oil, it has become profitable—very profitable.


Fort McMurray is known to its residents as Fort McMoney. It has exploded with the influx of oil patch workers from around the globe, and Canada’s coffers have swelled with billions in royalties. But there is a downside. Oil sand mining degrades the landscape, pollutes the water and with its associated refining industries accounts for 5 percent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. This type of mining oil is not going away. Although, only about 3% of the Oil Sands area has been mined, companies such as Shell, BP, Total and many others are developing mining operations in the Alberta Oil Sands. It’s vital the world knows the cost of the word ‘oil sands.’


This story is part of Climate Change by NOOR.