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?