I’ve asked my friend, Taylor, if I could repost his kick ass and thought-provoking post and he agreed to let me share his thoughts! His post discusses the realities of some communities who are directly impacted by oil sands industries. Taylor is an Ontario university nursing student and I met him this past summer while working out west in the same program. Through our conversations together this past summer, I have gotten to know that Taylor and his goals, like working in northern/rural areas. He is inspirational and I am happy to have met him!
It has been a long time since I have been able to write a new blog post. The past months have been extremely stressful and busy. It has, at times, been difficult to take the time to reflect. For that reason, as the summer is coming to a close, I want to share some things that I have learned before they escape my mind.
I have spent the past four months living and working admits the oil sands industry and neighboring communities. I have witnessed the impact of Industry driven ‘charity’ and the environmental devastation that the oil sands have brought to Alberta. Before I really get into the meat of my discussion, I wanted to say that I have tried to remain unbiased throughout my experience living among and dealing with the oil sands industry. For a while, I admired some of the initiatives taken by Industry. I went so far as to defend them in various circumstances. However, as I researched these issues and dealt more and more with Industry, I feel compelled to share my experiences.
Before arriving in Janvier, I really had no idea what the oil sands were or how they interacted with local communities. The only exposure that I had was through media advertisements and political campaigns. I had heard some negative things, but I always brushed those off as angry hippies with nothing better to do. As I arrived in Janvier, we saw only good things: a beautiful youth center with all of the resources that they needed and OSLI representatives who were always willing to help. OSLI is an organization representing six major oil companies that blatantly states that their mandate is to “[improve] the oil sands industry’s reputation.” Initially, I was impressed by the amount of resources and personnel that they committed to helping the community of Janvier. However, after numerous dealings with OSLI, my impressions of them began to change.
After a couple of months in, OSLI’s mandate began to really show. We found that OSLI representatives were present and supportive when there was any kind of publicity. There was one instance where we held an open house to showcase all of the things that the youth center had been involved in. There was an excess of funding, OSLI members willing to help and do what ever they could to support the community. However, as soon as the cameras left, once the spotlight was taken away, OSLI was nowhere to be seen. We had budget proposals waiting to be approved for weeks, but these were given no attention. My emails were often ignored unless they were regarding public relations. In light of their mandate, OSLI was successful, they focused mostly on image, which meant that the needs of the community were sometimes neglected. At times, it seemed as though Janvier was a means to an end. I doubt that anyone at OSLI actually has any experience or will to work with the youth of Janvier, but it looks good on paper and in photographs.
While the charity of the oil sands is often disappointing, it does not even compare to environmental atrocities that consume northern Alberta. We are often led to believe that environmental damage is minimal and reversible; however, this is simply not true. According to CBC’s The Nature of Things (http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episode/tipping-point.html), only a small section of land has actually been reclaimed and there is no evidence to suggest that the land reclamation process will work on such a large scale or work on the various types of topography. I’ve been to some of the ‘reclaimed land,’ it looks more like a zoo than an actual habitat. There are signs everywhere bragging about how the topography has been restored and the indigenous buffalo populations have been reintroduced. In actuality, the buffalo are fenced in and the vegetation is pathetic. Right next to some of this ‘reclaimed land’ are massive tailing ponds which are filled with toxic waste. Sadly, a lot of these tailing ponds leek into the Athabaska river and ground water. Nearby communities have a significantly higher prevalence of cancer when compared to the general population. In Fort McKay, a community just fifteen minutes from the Syncrude oil sands, residents are advised only to shower a maximum of once every other day because of the contaminants in the water. It’s really saddening to see what has been happening to our earth.
We are sacrificing so much of our environment, wildlife, and local communities, for luxury. We are choosing to destroy the things essential to life in order to protect our toys and addiction to oil. We are trading the things that we need for the things that we want. All the while, Industry has us convinced that we are moving forward, protecting our environment, feeding our economy, and improving our quality of life. It’s been so sad to see what has been happening to our earth- to see what the insatiable lust for power and wealth has lead to. One of the most difficult parts of this summer has been trying to reconcile the way that things are presented and the way that things actually are. It has been so upsetting to see how easily we are fooled by TV ads and our own choice to remain ignorant. At times, Industry does deceive consumers. They will tell us what we need to hear to keep us buying their products and consuming. They are masters of deception.