ThinkProgress: Just one week after Al Jazeera discovered that regulatory responsibility for Alberta, Canada’s controversial tar sands would be handed over to a fossil-fuel funded corporation, federal scientists have found that the area’s viscous petroleum deposits are surrounded by a nearly 7,500-square-mile ring of mercury.
Canadian government scientists have found that levels of mercury — a potent neurotoxin which has been found to cause severe birth defects and brain damage — around the region’s vast tar sand operations are up to 16 times higher than regular levels for the region. The findings, presented by Environment Canada researcher Jane Kirk at an international toxicology conference, showed that the 7,500 miles contaminated are “currently impacted by airborne Hg (mercury) emissions originating from oilsands developments.”
The Canadian government touts Alberta’s oil sands as the third-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world, next to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The region’s heavy crude oil is mixed with clay, bitumen, and a good deal of sand — hence the name “oil sands.” This makes for a unique and energy-intensive extraction process that some scientists say produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil. Environment Canada has said it expects production emissions from tar sands to hit 104 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020 under current expansion plans. [Continue reading…]