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A Bias Competition With Ezra Levant (and it's a damn close race)
on March 20, 2012
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 an oil sands company 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 people 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 over consumption 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.