An unfair comparison

- September 21st, 2012

Scientist Mulcair

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is not playing fair. It’s not right to compare today’s oilsands development with how steel mills dealt with their byproducts 60 years ago.

OTTAWA — Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair expanded his attack on Western Canada’s resource industries, comparing the oilsands to Sydney’s tar ponds – a notorious toxic waste site in Nova Scotia.

During a debate on the economy Thursday, Conservative MP Chris Warkentin accused the NDP leader of wanting to “go after industry in my province of Alberta” by putting a price on carbon emissions.

That’s when Mulcair mentioned the mess left by the coke ovens of Cape Breton steel plants.

“If you look at the Sydney tar ponds – it is TAR, not oil,” Mulcair said. “It’s a mistake from decades ago that we’re cleaning up.”

Mulcair said future generations will “be left with a bill for tens of billions of dollars of cleanup and entire ecosystems that will have been destroyed” unless oil companies are forced to pay for any pollution.

A few things:

- The Sydney tar ponds (and yes, it *is* tar in Sydney): Steel is the combination of iron with another element such as carbon. “Coke” is the fuel used for the smelting of iron ore. Coke is made by burning coal at extremely high temperatures in airless ovens – coal gas and coal water separate from the tar, then fuse with carbon and ash to produce a hard substance called “coke”.  The left-over tar (along with other residue and emissions) are what we’re concerned with. Yes we now have a mess that needs cleaning up, and people don’t agree on the best way to clean up. And it’s *very* expensive.

- By contrast, extracting oil from the oilsands (or, more precisely, the bitumen – which has the consistency of peanut butter) requires “mining”. In simple terms, the mining is done by using water and other chemicals to separate the oil from the “sands” part of the “oilsands”. That water, other chemicals and the leftover “sands” are left to sit in ponds so the sediments can settle. There are then several ways to deal with those sediments – and to be perfectly honest I am very unfamiliar with what those methods are. But I know the industry is working very hard at finding the best possible ways to deal with these things – because of political pressure, because they fear lawsuits, whatever the reason, they are spending tons of resources on it.

Nothing is perfect, of course, and I’m sure oilsands resource development can improve. It’s perfectly fine to criticize the way the industry deals with its environmental impact. But it’s not fair to say today’s management of the oilsands is the same as 1950s-style management of steel-making byproducts, no matter how many cheap political points you think you can score.

Otherwise, we might have to start wondering out loud about the need to shut down steel mills from, say, Hamilton and lose all those fine high-paying jobs? How would Mr. Mulcair like that one?

Categories: Environment

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2 comments

  1. Jen says:

    Very clever move Mulclair for you to accuse the oilsands of Sydney Nova Scotia man made toxic ponds.
    Oilsands comes from FOSSILS
    Sydney, Nova Scotia where loudmouth Elizabeth May lived has not said anything on regular basis, from the time the liberals were in government, of the ‘MAN MADE’ TOXIC PONDS IN HER PROVINCE. Instead, she bashed/es the ‘Bread and Butter of this nation.

    Mulclair wants to destroy Western Canada for the elevation and prosperity of Quebec and the Maritimes. In doing the Quebec untouched resources will open and, only Quebec and the maritimes would be intitled to that prosperity.

    Mulclair just like Obama wants to degrade our prosperity from the oilsands just like Obama IS DOING TO THE USA, for the sake of other provinces and countries that do not have that kind of prosperity.

    NDP AND OBAMA ARE BOTH WALKING ON THE SAME ROPE.

    If the media can’t see that

  2. Jen says:

    What’s also ‘unfair’ Bridget, is that VALERIOTY is still in the HOC, he has not resigned nor makes any intentions of stepping down after he or his campaign was for guilty on the ROBOCALL, yet he called for the resignation of one of the cpc mps.

    What IS also UNFAIR, is that THE NDP violated EC ACT when they took illegal donations from the unions and they have not resigned.

    Yet the cpc following the same EC rule book as the liberals and ndp did, were the ones (cpc) to get accused. And not only that, the cpc were condemmed from that onwards by the opposition, the media and the public.
    Up to this date not one media bothered to clarify the whole mess letting the cpc alone to face the bullet while the other parties walked away.

    BTW, I remember the cpc calling for one of the NDP mp to appear at the committee re to the expenditure in her riding but the majority opposition at the committee said ‘NO’.

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