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Deep In Canadian Lakes, Signs Of Tar Sands Pollution

January 12, 2013

Tar Sands Destruction

NPR, which has run ads from the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) for years, has been a bit light on the science when it comes to fracking. But when it comes to tar sands oil extraction in Alberta, Canada, they’ve run a major story about new science demonstrating how air pollution from tar sands operations causes water pollution.

From “Deep in Canadian Lakes, Signs of Tar Sands Pollution“:

Canadian researchers have used the mud at the bottom of lakes like a time machine to show that tar sands oil production in Alberta, Canada, is polluting remote regional lakes as far as 50 miles from the operations.

An increasingly large share of U.S. oil comes from Canada’s tar sands. There are environmental consequences of this development, but until recently, Canadian regional and federal governments left it to the industry to monitor these effects.


A new study follows other recent rigorous scientific studies that have found ecological effects that had been missed by the industry’s monitoring.

In a bad case of the fox monitoring the henhouse — familiar to everyone in shale country, U.S.A., where state and federal regulators largely leave the fracking industry to monitor itself — Canadian authorities are behind the eight-ball, and here is the evidence:

“Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, mud is accumulating at the bottom of a lake,” says John Smol, a biology professor at Queens University in Ontario. “It’s like a history book. The deeper you, go the older it is.”

Smol and scientists from Canada’s federal environment agency analyzed mud from the bottom of several lakes. They saw that the level of contaminants increased after the 1960s and 1970s, when tar sands development started. Then it rose sharply in recent years when tar sands production spiked.

The scientists also demonstrated that the source was not natural. “So the types of contaminants could also sort of point the finger, if you like, at ‘Yep, it’s coming from the tar sands operations,’ ” says Smol, an author of the paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The contaminants found include carcinogens:

The contaminants the researchers found are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs — air pollutants that come from pulling the tar stands oil out of the ground in surface mines and stripping the sand and other materials away in big processing plants called upgraders. These toxic chemicals are linked to cancer and other serious health problems. The levels found in the lakes were 2.5 to 23 times what they were 50 years ago but are not high enough to trigger obvious environmental or health problems, says Smol.

Read or watch the full story here. It’s a must-read.


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