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Tar Sands: Dirty Oil And The Future Of A Continent [Paperback]

Andrew Nikiforuk
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent 3.2 out of 5 stars (16)
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Book Description

Sept. 29 2008 1553654072 978-1553654070 Second Impression

A critical exposé of the open-pit mines that have made Canada one of the worst environmental offenders on earth.

While the world goes green, Canada has elected to go black into the tar. The frenzied development ($100 billion and counting) of the oil sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta, in the last six years has made Canada the world’s fifth greatest global exporter of oil and turned the country into “an emerging energy superpower.”<br />

Combining extensive scientific research and compelling writing, Andrew Nikiforuk takes the reader to Fort McMurray, home to some of the world’s largest open-pit mines, and explores this twenty-first-century pioneer town from the exorbitant cost of housing to its more serious social ills. He uncovers a global Deadwood, complete with rapturous engineers, cut-throat cocaine dealers, aimless bush workers, American evangelicals, and the largest population of homeless people in northern Canada. He also explains that this micro-economy supplies gasoline for 50 percent of Canadian vehicles and 16 percent of U.S. demand. Readers will learn that oil sands:

  • burn more carbon than conventional oil,
  • destroy forests and displace woodland caribou,
  • poison the water supply and communities downstream,
  • drain the Athabasca, the river that feeds Canada’s largest watershed, and
  • contribute to climate change.

Though Nikiforuk is critical of the tar sands, the book does provide hope, and ends with an exploration of possible solutions to the problem.

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Product Description

Quill & Quire

For the  better part of their history, the Alberta tar sands have been out of sight and out of mind for most Canadians. A thinly populated wilderness and (in the words of one early bitumen booster) a “relatively undesirable environment,” it is a place few people visit. Ninety-eight per cent of the current population of Fort McMurray plan on eventually retiring somewhere else. Government operates as an absentee landlord. Such blindness and indifference spring from broad-spectrum denial of the unpleasant consequences of our addiction to oil. Calgary-based journalist and Governor General’s Award-winning author Andrew Nikiforuk covers the resultant fallout in detail, from the massive and irreparable destruction of the natural environment – turning a good chunk of northern Alberta, including the world’s third-largest watershed, into a toxic moonscape – to the political transformation of Canada into a modern petrostate. What he exposes most of all, however, is the mind-boggling short-sightedness and stupidity of the entire enterprise. Nikiforuk does overdo the figurative comparisons a bit. While volume may be handily imagined in units of Olympic-size swimming pools, it’s less helpful to know that the area covered by open-pit mining could end up being three times larger than the ancient city of Angkor Wat. But this is a minor point. Overall, Tar Sands provides an excellent guide to all of the environmental repercussions of our oil dependency. The political analysis is also good, sounding a warning about our dangerous energy “interdependence” with the declining American empire and using Thomas Friedman’s first law of petropolitics – that the price of oil and the quality of freedom invariably travel in opposite directions – to make the case for tar’s corrosive effect on democracy. Nikiforuk concludes with “Twelve Steps to Energy Sanity,” an oil-addiction recovery program. And surprisingly, many of his recommendations seem doable. We can’t avert a disaster that is already under way, but we might be able to prevent things from getting horribly worse.


"Andrew Nikiforuk reveals the true costs of America's oil addiction. Tar Sands tells an important story with passion and wit." -- Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the book Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

"Required reading for the President [Obama] in preparation for his first foreign trip is the book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk" -- David Sassoon, The Huffington Post

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tar Sands by Andrew Nikiforuk Dec 18 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a must-read for all Canadians. Andrew Nikiforuk shows how Canada is doing more than its share in contributing to climate change in the world. If you care about your grandchildren and the kind of world present policies will be subjecting them to, you must read this book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book Jan. 15 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Should be read by all Canadian school children and especially by all Canadian politicians. Its coverage of the issues and inconceivable mismanagement surrounding the Canadian tar sands is excellent.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To provide some background on my opinion on this book: I currently study natural resource conservation and am committed to stopping climate change through a reduction of greenhouse gasses including CO2. That being said, I also spent 8 months working for Syncrude in their environmental research department and living in Fort McMurray. I bought this book along with 2 others (both are in the suggested panel on this page and I speak of them below) to try to gain a bit more perspective on the industry as a whole and to get some information I was not exposed to.

I honestly don't think there was a single chapter in Nikifourk's book which didn't utterly dumbfound me. Not only does he trivialize important and peer reviewed studies such as those by David Schindler and Erin Kelly (giving them a paragraph in certain sections) but he blows certain ones (such as John O'Conners misdiagnosis) way out of proportion.

What really riles me is how he portrays the city of Fort McMurray. While it is not the place for me and not somewhere I have any intention of moving to, I met dozens of people who loved it there. The bars there are just as trashy as any one I have been to in Vancouver, the traffic is horrible (but only in the morning and evening, Monday - Thursday), but that is due to some serious municipal/provincial bickering, the city itself just feels like a town which exploded. It certainly has problems, and I feel for mayor Blake who is doing her best to make it a great city but the way Nikifourk portrayed it, you would think it is like living in a slum. I'm not sure what to say other than that is simply not the case. At all.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tar Sands Feb. 7 2013
By Bill
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very informative. Must read for how Ralphie is ruining the climate and environment without any gain for Alberta's economy and future. Just more big bucks for big oil and no reclamtion of NE Alberta!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Total Exposé of Our Hate for Nature Jan. 26 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Disturbing, alarming, annoying, depressing, discouraging, dismaying, distressing, foreboding, frightening, gloomy, ominous, perplexing, perturbing, prophetic, provoking, unpleasant, unsettling, upsetting, vexing AND so horribly accurate.
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53 of 80 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars overblown, inaccurate, and disappointing. Nov. 25 2008
The tar sands is an important topic. But this book isn't the place to learn about it. You'd have to double check everything so you might as well go other sources and ignore this.

I study climate change and wanted to know more about the tar sands as it is a significant deposit of fossil fuel. But in one section of this book Nikiforuk writes on carbon capture, a topic I know something about. I realized how poorly researched this entire book might well be.

Nikiforuk, on carbon dioxide: "many tar sand projects puff out nearly a million tons of carbon dioxide a year.... ... a million tons - a megaton - is enough lethal carbon dioxide to fill one million two-storey, three-bedroom homes and suffocate every occupant".

If this type of overblowing is your cup of tea you'll love this book. If someone stacked up a megaton's worth of copies of Nikiforuk's book and toppled them on a three-bedroom home, no doubt these lethal books would suffocate or at least crush everyone inside as well.

When it comes to inaccuracy, he comes up with wild figures and contradicts himself on CO2 within a few paragraphs. He states, citing no source: "no infrastructure currently exists to bury carbon. To inject twenty megatons... will cost anywhere from $10 billion to $16 billion". This works out to $500 - $800 a ton. Then he points to a supposed source, as if to confirm this ballpark figure: "the Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage... requested $2 billion in public funds to explore how to effectively bury just five megatons" which works out to $400 a ton.

No one else in the world is publishing figures like this.

Then, a few paragraphs later, Nikiforuk brings up an authority, the I.P.C.C.
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12 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Blistering Attack on Alberta's Tarsands July 10 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
It is not long into the book before the reader realizes that the Canadian environmentalist, Andrew Nikiforuk, has more than a few bones to pick with the Canadian petroleum industry over the future expansion of the Tar Sands. In this short study on the state of this megaproject as it unfolds in the boreal forests of northern Alberta, Nikiforuk believes that the technology used to extract and convert bitumen from deep in the ground is extremely hazardous to the environment and expensive to Canadian taxpayers. As mentioned in the book, there are friendlier, albeit more expensive, energy alternatives that big government and big oil need to pursue in order to save the environment and the future of the country. For Nikiforuk, a notable left-wing political activist, the real beneficiaries of this huge government investment in the Tar Sands are the right-wing neocons who are profiting from major kickbacks from the likes of Suncor in the rush to expand the production of dirty oil. He includes chapters in the book that deal specifically with how Ottawa and Edmonton have teamed up to make Canada a leading exporter of underpriced oil to the US at the expense of damaging the wildlife and waterways of the indigenous people of northern Alberta. Furthermore, Alberta charges Suncor and its affiliates some of the lowest oil royalties in the country while paying out its own pockets hundreds of millions of public money for building critical public infrastructure for processing centers like Ft.McMurray. As a result of the big spending, anti-environment policies of the successive governments of Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach, Alberta is in the process of squandering its future as one of the wealthier provinces in Confederation. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy it
Full of technical errors and misrepresentation of facts. A waste of money. An example of how some in the community of environmental extremists are prepared to misrepresent the... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Bob
1.0 out of 5 stars Someone should tell Bill....
Someone should tell Bill that 'Ralphie' hasn't been premier of Alberta for several years, in fact, he's dead. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Stan
1.0 out of 5 stars Haters gotta hate
This book is a load of hooey. I suppose if you think any development is bad and you would rather buy oil from countries that are either corrupt or gross violaters of both human... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Mel Mackinnon
1.0 out of 5 stars Tar Sands
For those of us that work in the oilsands...yes its correctly called oilsands...it hasnt been called tarsands since 1951, and that starts off the gross inaccuracies in this book of... Read more
Published 21 months ago by SCOTTY
2.0 out of 5 stars Superficial, Misleading, and Politically Slanted
You wouldn't want to read this book if you wanted other than a superficial picture of the oil sands. Read more
Published on Aug. 4 2009 by David Moe
4.0 out of 5 stars Debunkers have their heads buried in the (tar) sand
This is a must-read for anyone interested in the planet's future. Some facts and figures may be suspect, but the overall report is accurate, similar to what the courts said about... Read more
Published on March 20 2009 by Red Green
5.0 out of 5 stars The stupidity of man kind.
I am now in my winter years and a keen observer of the world around me and how humankind has destroyed so much of our planet. Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2009 by Johnny Boy
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