A New Study Confirms the Tar Sands are Harming the Health of First Nations

This article was originally published by Vice Canada.

The most in-depth study of health concerns among communities downstream from the Alberta tar sands is out, and the results are damning.

The report largely confirms what residents of Fort Chipewyan, home to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) and Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN), have long been saying: significant increases in illnesses in the communities, including cancer, asthma, diabetes, and mental illness, among others, can be clearly tied back to tar sands development 200 kilometres upstream along the Athabasca River.

The study was lead by Dr. Stéphane McLachlan of the University of Saskatchewan, and carried out in conjunction with the AFCN and MCFN. The study is the first of its kind in working directly with community members in framing the direction of the research. Carried out in two phases over the past three years, McLachlan said the results they found are clear.

“What we found was a decline in health, particularly in relation to cancer. Again, I would argue, the link to the oil sands is incontrovertible,” he told VICE.

Continue reading A New Study Confirms the Tar Sands are Harming the Health of First Nations


These Protesters Walked 700 Kilometres Along Two Canadian Pipelines

This piece was originally published by Vice Canada.

Image by Arij Riahi.

Oil pipelines are about linking oil-well to terminal, linked from junction to junction along the way, spread out across vast expanses of the Canadian landscape. In Quebec, for example, two pipelines will be covering at least 700 kilometres, from Kanehsatake, west of Montreal, to Cacouna, a port town on the Gulf of St-Lawrence.

How do you push back against a major infrastructure project that crosses dozens of municipalities, let alone provincial jurisdiction and, importantly, Indigenous territory? For one group of some two dozen environmental activists it has been to walk the 700 kilometre path of those pipelines, so that the links in those towns and municipalities isn’t just between cold, metallic pipes, but between the people who are concerned about the oil flowing through them.

“A lot of people along the way didn’t know about the pipelines or about the link to the tar sands,” said Aurore Fauret, one of the organizers of the walk, dubbed Marche pour la Mère Terre (March for Mother Earth). “We were able to make links between a lot of smaller, local groups along the way… When you have an action [like this march] it can help give momentum to the movement at large.”

Continue reading These Protesters Walked 700 Kilometres Along Two Canadian Pipelines

Syncrude Sustainable Development Award Decried as “Misleading”

This article was originally published at DeSmog.ca.

Critics cried foul last week after oilsands giant Syncrude was awarded the inaugural Towards Sustainable Mining Environmental Excellence Award at the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) industry gala held in Vancouver on Monday, May 12.

The Fort McMurray-based company was recognized for its work in land reclamation, the attempt to re-establish ecosystems destroyed during oilsands development.

The company was specifically lauded for its work with fen wetlands, a sensitive and complex peat ecosystem that is a key part of the Boreal Forest and the local watershed, through its Sandhill Fen Research Watershed Initiative research project.

Continue reading Syncrude Sustainable Development Award Decried as “Misleading”

New article in latest issue of Canadian Dimension magazine

I’ve co-written an article with Arij Riahi for the latest issue ofCanadian Dimension magazine. “Another Layer of Colonialism: Resource extraction, toxic pollution and First Nations” examines how the Canadian mining industry has perpetuated environmental racism. From canadiandimension.com:

Arij Riahi and Tim McSorley write that the fact that so many indigenous communities in Canada live downstream of a polluting industrial project goes beyond pure coincidence. It’s “environmental racism,” as they were told by Aamjiwnaang First Nation and youth campaigner Vanessa Gray.

It’s part of a special section on mining, including a great piece on what lessons we can learn in how we deal with the legacy of residential schools in Canada from the the fight for justice in Guatemala by Dawn Paley and Sandra Cuffe.

The issue is on stands now, or you can buy it online here (where you can also subscribe to coming issues of the magazine).

Quebec Commission Gives Green Light to Line 9 Reversal

Originally published at DeSmog.ca.

A Quebec parliamentary commission has given its stamp of approval to Enbridge Inc.’s plan to reverse the flow of its Line 9B pipeline, recommending to the provincial government that it go ahead, pending certain conditions.

If the reversal of the pipeline goes ahead, it will send crude oil from the U.S. and Alberta, including oilsands bitumen, to Montreal.

Environmental groups immediately denounced the report, saying it ignored the majority of concerns raised at the commission, questioning the hastiness of the commission and accusing the Quebec government of turning its back on its environmental responsibilities.

“Quebec has abdicated its responsibilities to the Harper government, which has destroyed environmental protections and limited public participation in order to accelerate the approval of dirty energy projets,” said Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace Quebec in a press release. “Quebec has become complicit in the increase in Canadian emissions and the acceleration of climate change by driving us into the murky economy of the tar sands.”

Continue reading Quebec Commission Gives Green Light to Line 9 Reversal

Walking the Walk

In Northern Alberta, Indigenous communities and their allies are organizing to halt the destruction they say is caused by the tar sands. PHOTO: Arij Riahi.

Originally published by The Dominion.

By Arij Riahi and Tim McSorley

FORT MCMURRAY, AB—In the heart of Canada’s oil country, the booming town of Fort McMurray—casually dubbed Fort McMoney—is slowly becoming one of Alberta’s largest cities. From 2006 to 2012, the city grew by 53 per cent, going from a population of 47,705 to 72,994—far exceeding the growth of Alberta as a whole. This doesn’t count the “non-permanent residents” who are simply in town to work; including them, the population balloons to 112,215.

Nearby, however, Indigenous nations are struggling for cultural survival. The tar sands project continues to expand its destructive footprint on the traditional territories of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, among others. For them, opposition to the industrial project is not an environmental concern or a left-leaning pet project. It is a matter of human survival.

“I never did look at myself as a campaigner or an organizer, or an activist or an environmentalist. None of those things,” said Crystal Lameman, a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation who now works as the Alberta Climate and Energy Campaigner for the Sierra Club of Canada Prairie Chapter. “And I can say I still don’t look at myself that way. You know, it’s just doing what I need to for the sacrifices that our ancestors endured to ensure that we have that ability to utilize the land, to sustain ourselves.”

Continue reading Walking the Walk

This Small Town Victory Has Big Consequences for Tar Sands Pipelines

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Originally published at DeSmog.ca.

A five year battle against a key component of plans to pipe tar sands bitumen through Quebec and to the eastern United States quietly came to an end this summer.

In mid-July, Montreal Pipe Line Ltd., owned by Shell Oil, Suncor and Imperial Oil, withdrew its request with the Commission de protection du territoire agricole (the Commission for the Protection of Agricultural Land of Quebec, or CPTA) for permission to build a pumping station on 2.4 hectares of agricultural land in the eastern part of the province. The pumping station was crucial for plans to reverse the direction of the 378-kilometre-long Portland-Montreal Pipe Line (PMPL), in order to send oil from Montreal to the port city of Portland, Maine, for export.

The decision to withdraw the request has been met with cautious celebration by those who have been opposing the project since 2008.

“To our committee, this is a victory,” said Jean Binette, president of the Comité pour l’environnement de Dunham (the Dunham Committee for the Environment, or CED), in a telephone interview with DeSmog. “But we’re not fooling ourselves – this is most likely simply a postponement,” until projects like Enbridge’s reversal of Line 9B from Montreal to Sarnia orTransCanada’s Energy East pipeline comes though, he said.

Continue reading This Small Town Victory Has Big Consequences for Tar Sands Pipelines