There are some things in life you think are permanent. For me lakes are on that list. While lakes will move somewhat over time they are often pillars in our history. I remember the lake I went to almost every summer as a child, the one I first canoed and skinny-dipped in, and the one I retreat to on hot summer days. Lakes seem timeless and there is some degree of calm knowing that they will always be there.
That is not true with one small lake near Cold Lake, Alberta. That lake is the scene of one of four underground blow-outs at a Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) Primrose tar sands project that has been pouring tar sands bitumen into the environment for months now.
Already, more than 1.5 million liters of tar sands bitumen has been spilled and the number climbs higher every day. The blow out is likely to keep going into winter because CNRL and the government are unable to stop it.
Approximate amount of tar sands spilled at 4-uncappable CNRL spill sites near Cold Lake, Alberta (in litres)
The situation is now so bad that the Alberta government has ordered CNRL to drain a lake to try to better deal with it.
Within a few weeks the lake will be gone. CNRL has been ordered to return it in 2014 but I think we all know that lakes can't simply be filled like a swimming pool. Lakes are an integral part of ecosystems. Animals, insects, birds and plants depend on them and those interconnected relationships take decades or even centuries to develop.
While the removal of this lake will have long-term impacts, it is likely the best decision. It's an indication of how hard tar sands incidents are to clean up and just how extreme this situation has become. It has become so bad that a lake must be removed to try to deal with it.
As the water is drained, and the unanswered questions grow, the Alberta government must be held to account.
These tar sands spills showed just how little we know about underground tar sands extraction techniques and they warrant a larger review. We also need to stop approving in-situ tar sands projects until the Alberta government can honestly assure the public that we know what happened and we know it will not happen again.
Our communities shouldn't be test sites.
Write to AER head Jim Ellis - firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him you want a public inquiry into the safety of in-situ technology.