Staszenski notes that the cattle industry has recently asked that reports on impacts of gas flaring be made public and other groups are concerned about petroleum industry plans to deal with soil and water contamination. "Companies drilling an oil well dump wastes containing bezines and toluenes in pits and sumps. Currently, 40,000 sites need to be cleaned up," he explains. Rural surface rights organizations oppose deep well and land-fill proposals by industry, he continues. "What are the long term impacts?" he wonders.
Tailings ponds, resulting from the processing of oil from the tar sands, contain water, clay, sand, and residual bitumen. Left alone, this "soup" would take centuries to settle. Recent news reports have announced a process developed at the
Western Research Council that helps the solids sink to the bottom. Companies can then draw off the contaminated water, treat it, recycle it and plant vegetation on the site. The reports say that Syncrude has already moved bison onto land reclaimed this way.
However, Staszenski points out, we still have the world's largest tailings
ponds—about 40sq. km of them, up to 40m deep. "How well contained are they and can companies prevent contaminants from leaching into the sandy
Dealing with these issues is the job of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB). Its mandate is "to regulate the development and distribution of energy resources to effect conservation, safe and efficient practices, equity production, environmental protection, and facilities
"Alberta's regulations are very tough and very fair," asserts Energy Minister Black.
According to Natural Resources Canada, all major oil sands firms have committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production by 22 per cent from 1990 levels
by the year 2000 through the Voluntary Challenge and Registry Program. Scientists hope more efficient extraction and upgrading process will help lower them.
Staszenski recognizes the efforts of major companies to deal with the environmental challenges of retrieving oil. However, he's particularly concerned about self-monitoring and voluntary compliance by smaller companies.
Another aspect of the legacy of oil cannot be ignored. Oil sands' developments have
dramatically altered the lives of the Aboriginal people in northern Alberta. In response, Syncrude, for example, has aimed to have Aboriginal people constitute 13 per cent of the company's workforce by this year and currently 20 per cent of its site contractors are Aboriginal. The Bigstone Cree Nation formed Bigstone Band Enterprises Ltd., now a prime contractor for Amoco. And to help educate Albertans about Aboriginal heritage, Syncrude has contributed 1/3 of the direct costs of the Syncrude Canada Aboriginal Peoples Gallery to open next fall at the Provincial Museum of Alberta.
On the 50th anniversary of Leduc #1, we consider oil's legacy. As the owners of this resource, Albertans celebrate its promise of prosperity and share responsibility for its environmentally sound and equitable development.