"I wanted to see this huge and controversial resource extraction industry for myself. I took a 6 a.m. flight from Calgary, where I was speaking at a meeting of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, to Fort McMurray for a tour organized by the government of Alberta. Our first stop was to see an example of one of the two main extraction techniques – surface mining. Syncrude’s operations at Mildred Lake and Aurora have produced more than two billion barrels of oil since they started in 1978.
It is hard to describe the scale of these operations; they extended as far as the eye could see in every direction. Vast amounts of vegetation had been removed to get at the oil sands, leaving a huge, black scar on the earth. There were acres and acres of “tailings” ponds – the mixture or water, sand, clay, and other materials left at the “tail end” of the extraction process. These ponds are a hazard to migratory birds and other species.
We need a much more aggressive and comprehensive energy and climate policy, such as pricing carbon through a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. Emission standards for oil production and a low-carbon fuel standard are other important policy options. Environmental advocates in both Canada and the United States have effectively put pressure on the oil sands industry to improve its performance. The operations I saw were among the best performers. Until we stop using oil, it is imperative that the best get better, and that the rest of the industry be held to the highest possible standards."