The Mystery of Site C Dam Solved
Horgan and Trudeau have some tough questions to answer!
Follow the water…
The dam nobody needed was the first thing I heard about Site C. So why is it being built? It remains BC’s mystery dam with all sorts of speculation as to why it is being built.
If you want to solve the mystery just follow the water. Alberta tar sands has a big, big problem. It is called water. Here is what the Sierra Club of Canada (2008) has to say:
- Tar sands development requires an enormous amount of water – current projects remove about 349 million m3 of water from the Athabasca River each year, equivalent to about 140,000 swimming pools or twice the amount of water the City of Calgary uses per year.
- Tar sands’ water allocations accounts for 65% of the water withdrawals from the Athabasca River every year. These water use requirements are resulting in lower water levels in freshwater aquifers, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands.
- Oil sands development is the largest user of groundwater in Alberta.
- Two to four and a half barrels of water are used to produce one barrel of oil.
- For In Situ extraction alone, 24,000 m3 of water will be needed DAILY for steam production and processing
- Oil sands corporations maintain that their water use is reasonable because they have improving rates of recycling. However, much of the water used ends up in tailings ponds (large pools of toxic water and mining waste).
- Tailings lakes could leak toxic pollution into the water system having impacts throughout the Mackenzie River Basin, which spans from the tar sands area in the south through to the Arctic Ocean (link is external).
- Some of the water is lost forever when it is injected deep into the earth.
- The recently released Athabasca Flow Management Framework does not adequately protect the river allowing for significant withdrawals even when the river is at its lowest levels. No ecosystem objectives were identified for habitat conservation (beyond fish stocks) or water quality in these low flow scenarios.
Site C hugs the Western border of Alberta and is ideally situated to supply water to the tar sands. As the Athabaska River system fails Site C water will become available. Referring to a compelling article by Dan Woynillowicz, The Harm the Tar Sands Will Do, Tyee, 2007:
“There is no stopper in the drain.…Historically it was believed that the Athabasca River had sufficient water flows to meet the needs of tar sands operations. But it is becoming clearer that this might not be the case, particularly during the winter months, when river flows are naturally lower, and growing demand for water withdrawals could lead to long-term ecological impacts. The sustainability of fish populations in the Athabasca River is threatened by continuous tar sands water withdrawals during the winter months in years when low precipitation rates in the Athabasca River basin lead to low flow conditions. Nonetheless, the government has failed to implement regulations that would require tar sands withdrawals to stop when the health of the river is at risk. In fact, the government explicitly allows the tar sands industry to continue withdrawing water no matter how low the river flows become. “
As the Alberta government has allowed the oil industry to free wheel and virtually destroy the Athabaska River system(keep in mind cited documents are almost ten years old) they are now in contingency and Site C gets the nod. Alberta’s problem now becomes BC’s problem. In other words it is bailing out the Alberta government for its compulsive environmental negligence.
Tar sands mining will be ongoing for the next twenty or thirty years. The environmental degradation to date is only a small sampling of the ultimate cost.
The world is in a fresh water crisis and the monstrous quantities of water required to produce tar sands oil is unconscionable. A profoundly primitive undertaking it consumes a disproportionate amount energy in its production as well was adding to atmospheric pollution. At a time when climate change is manifesting itself in so many erratic and ominous ways, tar sands is a dubious undertaking.
Follow the money…and my best guess is…
Major investors want assurance lack of water will never interrupt the flow of oil. Site C is their insurance. It will be a containment reservoir to equalize seasonal water flows and hold back a reserve for use as necessary.
Calgary based Aecon construction has just been sold to CCCl, a government-owned Chinese consortium for 1.45 billion dollars. Under its new ownership Aecon is a general contractor for Site C.
It has also been reported BC Hydro, a publicly owned Crown corporation, is about to be privatized. The public might want some say on this, and who will be the new owners.
Site C financed with public money for private profit is an issue that must be addressed. Public money has always subsidized corporate infrastructure but following the edicts of neoliberalism politicians have allowed flagrant abuse. Government has become a catering service to the private sector.
It is also a situation where the benefits are going almost exclusively to a foreign country.
What price do our governments put on the environmental degradation and risk ensuing from the tar sands? None, it appears? Is it a freebie for all-comers?
Will unlimited expansion be allowed?
We should ask politicians some very tough questions.
Imagine harnessing all the power of science and technology for the good of humanity. Imagine including environmental health as an indicator of economic well-being. Imagine the cost of polluting goods and services actually reflecting the damage they cause to human health and the environment. Imagine proactive environmental policies designed to prevent environmental damage from occurring in the first place, rather than simply trying to clean messes up later. All of this is possible, but only if we as individuals, as a society, and ultimately, as a species decide that this is what we want- David Suzuki, environmentalist , author, scientist, broadcaster