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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tar Sands by Andrew Nikiforuk
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.
Published 21 months ago by Oksana Richards

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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Bias Competition With Ezra Levant (and it's a damn close race)
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...
Published on March 20 2012 by R. Johnstone


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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tar Sands by Andrew Nikiforuk, Dec 18 2012
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This review is from: Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (Paperback)
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
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This review is from: Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (Paperback)
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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tar Sands, Feb. 7 2013
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Hi,
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
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This review is from: Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (Paperback)
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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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Bias Competition With Ezra Levant (and it's a damn close race), March 20 2012
By 
R. Johnstone (Vancouver, BC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (Paperback)
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.

There are scores of biases throughout the book but one of my favourites is on the top of page 105, I won't quote the entire passage since you can read it yourself in the "look inside" feature of Amazon. Basically he implies that the Emergency Meeting Point (which is a giant blue C if you ever drive by it on the high way) is use for toxic spills and upgrader fires. That is 100% true, but it is the same as saying the "Muster Point" for whatever office or school you may work in is used for the same purpose. That meeting point (like every meeting point) is used for any emergency and is a way to increase site safety (safety in the oil sands is also something Nikifourk blasts). Every time we left the truck to do any work, we had to fill out a safety card with our meeting point listed so that we could meet emergency responders in case anything happend (which for us was usually related to tripping and falling our bear attacks, but if you asked Nikifourk, he would say that every black bear in the oil sands was killed by the toxic ponds). In the same paragraph, he speaks about the bison raised on Syncrude land and how he doubts anybody eats them. The bison ranch is actually run by the Fort McKay Group of Companies (and the ranch is run by a few First Nations guys from the company/band) and the bison are consumed regularly.

I don't like the idea of "defending" the oil sands, I feel strongly that there is a serious lack of monitoring in the area and that the royalties paid to the government are totally inadequate. Not to mention the issue of our countries massive overconsumption of oil and, well, everything else. However, if you want to learn something about the oil sands, this book is a HORRIBLE way to start. Look at James Marsden's "Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn't Seem to Care)". It is just as opinionated as this book but at least does it in a much more logical and factual way (if that is possible). Then pick up Ezra Levants "Ethical Oil: A case for Canadas Oil Sands", you will undoubtedly disagree with many, if not all, of its principles (as I did), but it is always important to look at the same data, same information, just interpreted in a different way. After you have doen that, flip through the reference section and read over a few reports, it takes time but you will be able to form your own opinion, rather than spewing the same garbage and turning people AWAY from environmentalism as people like Nikifourk do.

One of the more enlightening sections of the book was all about the money of it all. Alberta is not charging the kind of royalties it should be and this needs to change. However, in the great cluster-frack that this book is, Nikifourk talks about Norway as a model nation for collecting fees for long term savings for the country. What he does not mention is how the government owned Statoil in Norway has invested HEAVILY in... The oilsands! So is Alberta supposed to do the same? Collect money from industry only to invest it in dirty oil? I think that is a rather foolish comparison.

The "dirty oil" also really gets me. There is very little evidence shown for just how dirty the oil is in Alberta. Number are shown yes, but many of them represent unrealistic or outdated information. Many oil producers around the globe are guilty of misrepresenting their emissions (such as by burning natural gas found with crude oil underground) and I really do believe that the oil sands are not "that bad". Of course no oil is clean oil, it just sort of grinds my gears that people have this view of the oil sands as being 20 times worse than conventional crude.

Finally, if you really hate what is going on in the oil sands, stop driving, stop taking vacations halfway around the world, stop buying garbage you don't need to impress people you don't care about from the other side of the world and generally try to reduce your overall consumption of oil. To his credit, Nikifourk does devote one of the last sections of the book to this idea of practical solutions to the problem. He looks at James Hansens idea of a dividend based carbon tax and speaks to the idea of reducing consumption to help slow increase in supply. But then in the "Afterword" he goes on a two page tirade about the criticisms of his book he has received and does so in a very undignified mannor, one which seems to be more akin to a juvenile throwing a temper tantrum at his poorly done essay. Nikifourk needs to realize that there are those who will criticize him, and they will do a good job of it. He needs to just ignore it and keep doing what hes doing as long as people (like me) keep buying his book.

*Also, somebody please get Nikifourk a dictionary. There he will find that the name given to the oil sands is correct, if you want to be more specific you can start calling them the asphalt sands or bitumen sands, tar sands is just incorrect. That kind of bugs me.
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52 of 79 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars overblown, inaccurate, and disappointing., Nov. 25 2008
By 
David Lewis (Crescent Valley, British Columbia Canada) - See all my reviews
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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. and states they say capturing "just one ton of carbon ranges anywhere from $25(U.S.) to $115(U.S.). So, within a few paragraphs, Nikiforuk goes from $500, to $800, then to $25 - $115 for either "injecting" a ton, or "capturing" a ton of CO2. Nikiforuk is just throwing numbers around, and using language loosely enough its hard to decypher exactly what he is claiming. Carbon capture "defies economics" he writes, even as his writing defies understanding.

He ignores that the I.P.C.C. states carbon capture will be an important part of future carbon dioxide emitting power sources for civilization even as he claims to be familiar with their work.

Near the end of this topic, he blithely pronounces the entire concept of carbon capture to be "morally bankrupt".

I don't find it that useful to be told that a technology that removes a pollutant is somehow "morally bankrupt". As far as his pronouncement that carbon capture "defies economics" it would be far more useful to publish a meaningful figure. What would cost to remove the CO2 from the emissions of the energy source used to process a barrel of oil from tar sand? If he just stated a range of estimates for this, then anyone could understand what it might cost to put tar sand oil on a more level playing field with conventional oil. It is the carbon emissions from the processing fuel that has analysts saying that tar sand oil results in more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. Nikiforuk carefully avoids stating any figures in this most meaningful form.

I've seen a study stating less than $10 a barrel, i.e. the Rand study. But Nikiforuk has an axe to grind, this is the "dirtiest" possible oil, and he isn't interested in providing any figures anyone can use to see the issue in any way other than what he says the issue is.

An on and on.
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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 (Victoria, BC) - See all my reviews
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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. Nikiforuk maintains that it is time for the federal government to start shifting its energy priorities away from harmful and wasteful oil production to greener alternatives. To this end, a national carbon tax, fewer agriculture subsidies, higher royalties and a national heritage fund similar to Norway's could pave the way to a more sustainable economy that is not dependent on fossil fuels as its one key energy source. While I sympathize to a degree with Nikiforuk's message on the need to step back from developing the Tar Sands, I don't think it will happen the way Nikiforuk imagines it will. There are powerful economic forces at work here that have the attention of government and are prepared to do anything possible to see the Tar Sands expand over the next decade, even it uses up over 70% of the province's water and pollutes most of its northern waterways for generations to come. Well-written and worth the read just to learn how fragile this region is in terms of heavy industrial development.
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15 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sweeping Expose of an Environmental Disaster in the Making, Nov. 18 2008
By 
Gordon Neufeld (Schenectady, New York) - See all my reviews
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Nikiforuk, most famous for his book on Wiebo Ludwig, "Saboteurs", now returns with a book that looks at the massive oil sands development in Northern Alberta and shows how the reckless out-of-control exploitation of this resource is having a terrible effect on the environment and the health of the local population. Nikiforuk also shows how the Alberta government has for years under-collected revenues from oil sands exploitation, and has made no provision for keeping the funds out of general revenue and therefore has used these funds to get itself re-elected, thereby diminishing civic involvement in politics and democracy in Alberta. Bitumen--the raw oily dirt which must be processed by burning enormous amounts of energy and wasting vast quantities of water in order for it to be converted to usable oil--is here exposed as Alberta's dirty "secret" and the largest single petroleum project in the world. A must-read for Albertans, though at times a little dry in its writing style.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tar Sands, Feb. 1 2013
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 pure propaganda not science.
The oilsands has been in operation for almost 50 years and has provided Canada with billions of dollars of revenue plus over 230,000 jobs from BC to Quebec and the Maritimes. Its a healthy sports town that grew now to over 120,000 people of many ethnic groups and religions. It has one of Alberttas oldest MOSQUES.
Nikiforuks book is crass propaganda and its easy to prove its propaganda by taking a trip to Fort McMurray and seeing the Community. My kids were born here.
Its a multicultural town. Oilsands are the biggest employer of aboriginal people in Canada and two at least are millionaires.
On the environment, oilsands contributes 0.2% of world GHGs.
A variety of studies confirms there are contaminants but all are within normal urban levels (Science Academy) Cross Cancer Institute states that comments told by Nikiforuk are untrue. There are no excessive cancers here as he states. Over 180,000 people live and work in this region MANY IN THE PLANTS EXTRACTING OIL. Do you think if there was cancer many workers would have it? Its all BS and Albertans know it. Nikiforuk has NEVER spent a day in the oilsands yet he's an expert?
Fort McMurray is a great place to raise kids. 1400 kids in minor hockey. 1800 kids in soccer. Biggest Leisure Centre in Canada with pools. Aboriginal Owned Hotel biggest in Fort McMurray (Sawridge) Biggest United Way in Canada. Home to Hockey and Film Stars (Chris Phillips and Natasha Henstridge) Home to best senior Marathon Runner in Canada (Phil Meagher) Biggest Urban Municipality in Canada.
Dave Tuccaro of TUCs Corpn., best known native millionaire in Canada. Best Vocational College in Canada. AIR is 15 times better than Toronto.
Get a tour of the oilsands see the BISON. See the reclaimed land
Phone 1-780-791-4336 (Fort McMurray Tourism) Believe your own eyes, not this propagandist. SEEING IS BELIEVING.
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17 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Superficial, Misleading, and Politically Slanted, Aug. 4 2009
By 
David Moe (Canmore, AB Canada) - See all my reviews
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You wouldn't want to read this book if you wanted other than a superficial picture of the oil sands. The author has a definite political agenda, and is not averse to slanting most of the facts and statistics to support it. Even the title is misleading. TAR is a man-made substance, produced by destructive distillation of organic matter, but what the "tar sands" contain is crude BITUMEN, an extremely heavy grade of crude oil that will not flow unless heated or diluted with solvents. (Since I have a degree in chemistry, I find the mislabeling annoying.) Tar would be thoroughly useless to an oil refinery, whereas bitumen can be handled using more sophisticated refining processes. Calling it "dirty oil", is also misleading, since there is really no such thing as clean oil - it's all dirty to some degree. Crude oil is mostly black, sticky, full of salt water and sand, contains varying amounts of sulphur, and is often contaminated with heavy metals. The refinery removes all the nasty contaminants and produces that lovely, golden motor oil that you put in your car. The author's claim that, "Each barrel of bitumen produces three times as much greenhouse gas as a barrel of conventional oil" is incorrect. He's comparing it to Arab oil production circa 1960, and even the Arabs need to use more intensive production methods these days. More importantly, the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions occur when you burn it in your car, not when it is produced.

In addition to using American terminology ("tar sands" is an Americanism), the author converts all the measurements to American units. Canadian oil companies operate, and report to government, in metric units. Oil, water and gas are measured in cubic metres, weight in kilograms, and land in hectares and square kilometres. Nikiforuk converts this all to U.S. oil barrels, U.S. gallons, cubic feet, acres, and square miles, with no conversion back to metric so you can compare it to original numbers. I'm not sure why he does this, other than to mislead the readers. Also, he uses American rather than Canadian spelling - e.g. "sulfur" instead of "sulphur". What units he uses is probably moot, since a lot of the numbers are incorrect or misleading.

The section on water use includes a highly misleading map implying all of the enormous Mackenzie Basin is involved in oil sands development, when only the Athabasca and Peace River basins are. Comparing them to rivers running through Denver and Calgary is misleading since the Athabasca River is much bigger, has few other industrial users, and there's little need for irrigation that far north. About about 98% of the water flows into the Arctic Ocean unused, and oil sands development could reduce that to 95% in a high-usage scenario. Compare that to 30% for the South Saskatchewan and 0% for the Colorado (it no longer reaches the ocean). The tailing ponds used to settle out fine silt are certainly an environmental concern, but are not much more toxic than the original oil sands. Nikiforuk talks about "wetlands", but the stuff is better known up north as muskeg - vast peat bogs which make building roads and cultivating farms difficult. Muskeg produces a lot of wildlife, but most of it is mosquitoes. The forest he describes as untouched has burned down repeatedly in massive forest fires about once or twice per century, and last burned down in the 1960s, but it bounces back rapidly every time. The oil companies would have trouble restoring the natural bogginess after mining, but they intend to turn it into agricultural land and put bison and picnic tables on it. Agriculture and tourism make more money than forestry, so the Alberta government likes the idea. In fact, most of Alberta's forests are potential farmland, so if global temperatures and food prices were to rise sufficiently, Alberta would encourage farmers to homestead all the land, clear all the trees, and plant enough crops to feed several third-world countries - a prospect that I'm sure would absolutely horrify the David Suzuky Foundation.

Nikiforuk seems to hate the idea of disposing of carbon dioxide using carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), but the oil companies love it because injecting CO2 into a depleted oil field can considerably improve the oil recovery rate. The Weyburn, Saskatchewan project he mentions actually injects CO2 from a coal gasification plant in North Dakota, and was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. It is estimated to have doubled the oil recovery rate of the field. The author rails against the use of nuclear power, but does not explain that a nuclear power plant produces large amounts of low-temperature steam as a waste product, while an oil sands plant requires large amounts of low-temperature steam for its processing. From an energy standpoint, it's a two-for-the-price-of-one deal (cogeneration). The nuclear industry is keen on the idea, but the Alberta government is more equivocal, since it also works with gas and coal-fired plants. In fact, the oil sands have the potential to generate a large surplus of cheap electricity, which could be sent to markets in southern Alberta and the U.S. The author hates the idea and wants people to use geothermal, wind, and solar power instead, not mentioning that they couldn't achieve the same low prices and high reliability.

The author condemns Alberta's low royalty rates and compares them to other countries and states, but does not compare them to Saskatchewan and British Columbia, which are the more immediate competitors - when Alberta raised its royalties, it caused a stampede of drilling rigs to those two other provinces. Another factor is that Alberta does not really need the extra money, because it makes enough in income tax to more than balance the budget. He also makes the ludicrous statement that the U.S. Gulf states don't have any taxes. Of course they have taxes, just not necessarily income taxes. Texas has a sales tax but no income tax, Alberta has an income tax but no sales tax, and neither can get by on oil revenues alone. When he talks about politics, the authors extreme socialist perspective comes to the fore. His characterization of Alberta as a "petrotyranny" is ludicrous because Alberta voters have elected the type of government they want - which is quite different from the type of government Nikiforuk would like them to have. Alberta voters are thoroughly conservative, at least by Canadian standards, and prefer the province's combination of low taxes, high quality schools, and good roads, without a lot of government interference. Nikiforuk wants them to have higher taxes, (particularly sales taxes, which Albertans traditionally hate), not to benefit from their vast natural resources, and to support a wide variety of socialist goals that they don't like.

At the end of it all, the author comes up with a series of recommendations that would probably be disastrous for Canada and the U.S. The reality is that the world's conventional oil reserves are badly depleted, all the major oil fields are in rapid decline, and oil sands are the only game left in town. The U.S. is out of options, out of time, and out of money, so it has a choice between oil sands or nothing. Canada has more options, and reducing the rate of development is probably desirable, but despite Nikiforuk's preferences, having some oil sands development is a lot better than having none at all. Without oil sands, Canadian taxes would be higher, the Canadian dollar lower, unemployment would be worse, and government services more difficult to fund. Nikiforuk hates it, but it's just basic economics.
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Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent
Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk (Paperback - March 15 2010)
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