The Alberta Oil Sands. I needed to see too.
I wanted to see what Desmond Tutu saw. And James Cameron. And Neil Young.
I hadn’t been to Fort McMurray since I was a young girl. I had no clear memory of being there. I have lived around industry for most of my life – An asbestos mining community in the early 90’s, another community hosting a coal mine and a lumber mill later on in the 90’s, Edmonton’s East Side Industrial in the 2000’s. And in the most recent years another coal mine and numerous oil & gas installations…..
25 years later…. I went to see.
And absolutely nothing in my lifetime prepared me for what I witnessed in the Fort McMurray region.
I have been to fracking sites. I have worked as an H2S line walker for the Oil and Gas Industry. I have been to Oil & Gas plants. I have taken the tour of Capital Power’s Genesee Generating Station facility (coal) west of Edmonton…
And all of those pale in comparison to the Alberta Oil Sands.
They are desperately struggling to keep up with the amount of infrastructure needed to accommodate the sheer number of travelers to and from Ft. McMurray. The highways are finally being twinned slowly after years of accidents and fatalities and the people complaining to the government. But, it doesn’t make up for the white crosses that line the ditches every few kms…. Some have flowers at their feet, some have hard hats hanging on them…. In one spot there were seven crosses in a row…
People have been saying for more than a decade how dangerous Highway 63 is. And they weren’t embellishing the truth at all.
The oil derricks & gas plants start a ways out before the city… Nothing that I was unused to.
What I wasn’t sure of though, was the haze….. Was it the Earth sweating because it was so hot on the day that I drove in? Was it mist? Was it smoke? Was there a fire down where? Was it smog? I never did find out……
The city of Ft. Mac itself is a beautiful city, lots of hills, forests and greenery surrounding it, with a river running through it. They’ve done the best they can with what they have there.
But, many people are crammed into a small area and it shows with the diversity of housing in place and going up.
I learned that some businesses charge $1,000 a month for a simple parking space in their back lot. People rent and park their campers on them, living this way year round.
The socio-emotional impact on human beings living in such a strange place is not something I choose to write about here. There are others who have gone before me, disclosing all manner of human wretchedness experienced by many working and residing up there.
Suncor, Syncrude and Shell have taken up a competition of sorts to see who can out best the other at ass kissing to the community they are destroying…. A new arena, rec center blah blah blah….. Patting themselves on the back because they think they’ve done something fucking decent.
If you continue on through and past Fort McMurray – north bound, off to your right you’d see it for a moment: Flashes of metal, flame, smoke, wasteland, no life, no green… And then it’s hidden by carefully constructed hills…. They have screened themselves in very well for the first bit of the road.
If you keep driving, you’d pass boarding residences and tiny matchbox apartments put up by the companies to house their employees…. They reminded me of the jail north of Edmonton. It’s so insane what we have condition ourselves to.
Once you pass those, the road became curvy and winding… There’s a large beautiful lake on your right, and suddenly you hear the gunshots…. And then you realize that you’re not looking at a lake, you’re looking at a tailings pond and you realize you are surrounded by them, 175 square kms of tailings ponds… This toxic killing field of wastewater and the gunshots meant to scare the birds away so they don’t land on it…. 2 million birds dead already from landing on it and the pond liners are leaking and that’s what is fucking up the waters up there.. 40 years of waste water byproduct from extracting the oil from the sand and they don’t know how to clean the water. They don’t know how to clean the water!
They.Don’t.Know.How.To.Clean.The.Water. and it is the whitest sand you’ve ever seeeeeeeeeeen….
All over the place in piles….
Because of our need for oil. That’s why. We’re oil junkies.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Automated guns firing, frightening nature to protect it.
Do we understand how insane we are?
So I continue on….
The haze is heavier… You can’t see the sun. And the keening sound coming from the engine of the car is not the engine. It’s me. And by the time I hit the smoke stack you see in the pic below, I am sobbing openly and helplessly and entirely overtaken with grief.
Even in that place there are residences built. Humans live at the foot of that fucking monster.
I stopped at a little learning center. There is bucket there placed in the middle of the concrete. You could park four compact cars in that bucket. In the field this thing is attached to a huge crane…. This crane is not on a track. It’s on triangular wheels that ‘walk’, 8 meters per side. 24 meters per complete rotation. The bucket thunders itself into the earth…
Next to it on my left is another machine. This thing looks like a 2D wheel with jagged grooves all the way around it. The grooves protrude outwards slightly, each groove is like a shovel….
The build west for the Northern Gateway has already begun up there. They think they have already won.
I came to understand too that seeing healthy coyotes up here was unheard of. Mangy, scraggly, missing fur, sickly looking… Knowing that they are the scavenger creatures, preying upon the most vulnerable, the weakest, the sick… Just what are they eating?
I had no idea what the fuck I was walking into.
The rest stops were disturbing…. Women’s phone numbers…. ‘Emergency turban repair’ scribbled above the toilet paper dispenser with an arrow pointing downwards…. ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter the Mac’… Swastikas…
The Alberta Oil Sands region is exactly how they have all said it is.
It is a monstrosity. A blight on the face of this living, breathing planet. Anyone who says it is making zero impact is lying to themselves…
I understand just how many people Oil & Gas are helping to survive, to live…. Every nation up there is surviving and living off of it. White, red, yellow, black. They are all there. Many are trapped. Resigned. Ill. Dying. Dead.
I went because I needed to know. I needed to know first hand what the Oil Sands were like. I wanted to see it for myself and so I went and I saw.
I never want to go back again.