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Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent Paperback – Mar 15 2010

3.5 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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  • Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent
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  • Tar Sands Showdown: Canada and the New Politics of Oil in an Age of Climate Change
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  • Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn't Seem to Care)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Greystone Books / David Suzuki Foundation; 2 edition (March 15 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1553655559
  • ISBN-13: 978-1553655558
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #129,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Award-winning journalist Andrew Nikiforuk explores why, while the world is going green, Canada is going black in Tar Sands, which includes a fascinating look at Fort McMurray's black-gold rush town, often lawless and corrupt. —Canadian Bookseller

(2008-09-23)

Investigative journalist and national treasure Andrew Nikiforuk documents the exorbitant economic, social and environmental costs of building Alberta's Tar Sands. —Mainsonneuve

(2008-09-30)

Nikiforuk . . . took pains to ensure his book went beyond preaching to the converted. Tar Sands begins with a bluntly worded 22-point 'declaration of a political emergency' and ends with a 12-step plan to regain 'energy sanity,' which includes action the general reader can take. In between, Nikiforuk writes not only about environmental and political concerns, but takes the reader into the frenzied boom of Fort McMurray and along the so-called 'highway to hell' that leads to it. —Calgary Herald

(2008-11-02)

Nikiforuk believes the Tar Sands should be developed gradually and with far greater environmental sensitivity . . . Nikiforuk paints a picture of the current development as an environmental cesspool. —Regina Leader-Post

(2008-11-17)

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 . . . —Quill & Quire

(2008-11-26)

If you want to be scared, you don't need to watch a horror movie or read the latest Stephen King bestseller. Real terror can be found by simply firing up Google Earth . . . [where] you can see what Albertas Tar Sands look like from space. It's not a pretty sight . . . A recent book by celebrated journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, Tar Sands . . . explores what these grey spots on Google Earth mean to Canada's environment and economy. It's an important book, one that every Canadian should read to find out how the worlds largest energy project will affect us. —Georgia Straight

(2008-12-10)

It's an important book, one that every Canadian should read to find out how the world's largest energy project will affect us. —David Suzuki Foundation

(2008-12-12)

The Alberta Tar Sands are a cesspool of pollution. Nikiforuk's elegantly written book delivers all the gory details about toxic lakes, heat-trapping greenhouse gases, and the fiction of reclamation. Tar Sands also reveals how Canada's new status as a petrostate has jeopardized its democracy. His 12 steps to energy sanity should be required reading for every citizen. —Georgia Straight

(2008-12-18)

In his recent book Tar Sands . . . Nikiforuk lands a knockout blow on the kissers of the oil industry, oil-friendly bureaucrats, and petrol-guzzling North Americans. —Sustainablog

(2009-01-07)

Nikiforuk documents a mind-boggling array of government abuses: mismanagement, graft, and general neglect have contributed to the problem. Further, he catalogues the massive environmental destruction necessary to make Tar Sands exploration a viable (read: profitable) enterprise. His book is at its strongest here, examining the total costs of bitumen. —Socialist Worker

(2009-01-14)

While many Alberta businesses and employees watched with trepidation as the price of oil dropped dramatically over the past six months, Alberta journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk sees a silver lining in a possible bust. With oil sands wealth dwindling, Canada can finally have a national conversation not only about the development of the oil sands, but also on Canada's overall energy policy, he says. The award-winning national magazine writer has authored several books on the oil and gas industry . . . [and] the years of research that went into these books have given him a confident, no-nonsense approach to the oil industry. —See Magazine

(2009-01-17)

Canada has no cohesive energy policy. Nor does it have a cohesive environmental policy. Put the two together, and you get the Tar Sands of Alberta, in all their hideous glory. Andrew Nikiforuk's Tar Sands . . . lays bare the idiocy of this malignant neglect. The book is, in essence, a revolting, blush-making case for Canada to develop integrated energy and environmental regulation suitable for the post-carbon age. —Globe & Mail

(2009-01-17)

Nikiforuk has a point, and he has guts. He also explains the Tar Sands in a straightforward way—something the cheerful websites of government and industry have been slow to do, apparently with reason. Nikiforuk's language leans towards the incendiary: the oil sands are 'a provincial debacle and a national fiasco'; coal-bed methane wells are 'carpet bombing' farmland . . . The government website wouldn't but it quite like that. And that is exactly why one should buy this book. —Edmonton Journal

(2009-01-17)

Read Nikiforuk's book and you'll see why Harper's comment has already won the award for Biggest Understatement of 2009. —Huffington Post

(2009-01-20)

In his 2008 book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, Nikiforuk offers a scathing critique of what he calls the corporate greed and regulatory indifference that have attended development of Canada's vast oil patch. Mr. Nikiforuk spoke with Green Inc. recently about how President Barak Obama, who has promised to pursue energy independence for the United States and who is expected to make a state visit to Canada later this month, might regard the Tar Sands. —New York Times Green Inc. Blog

(2009-02-09)

Nikiforuk's book, written in his caustic style of investigative journalism, makes [an] entertaining read, sometimes resembling a political thriller. —Canadian Dimension

(2009-03-01)

Packed with shocking statistics that condemn the Canadian oil industry, 200 pages is more than enough to convince any reader that the Tar Sands are anything but sustainable . . . This book is perfect for anyone who is interested in reducing their reliance on oil products, or who is researching and fighting for change in Canadian mining practices. —Outwords Magazine

(2009-03-17)

Award-winning author and journalist Andrew Nikiforuk sheds light and warning on the bitumen industry in Tar Sands . . . at the heart of Nikiforuk's scathing criticism of petropolitics are the social and environmental injustices, turning the surrounding community into 'a carbon storm and the planet's third-largest watershed into a petroleum garbage dump.' The shocking claims are not meant as a scare tactic, but rather a call for collective movement, led by the author's insightful 'Twelve Steps to Energy Sanity.' —E Magazine

(2009-03-24)

Tar Sands tells a well-known story in a new way. We see not only the large-scale environmental destruction that we have come to associate with this mega-project, but also the local social problems that result . . . The book's greatest strength is [his] ability to show the impacts of the Tar Sands on real people. —Literary Review of Canada

(2009-04-07)

I made the mistake of skimming Tar Sands' introductory 'Declaration of a Political Emergency' one night before bed—and couldn't put the book down before I had finished. —Alberta Views Magazine

(2009-04-15)

With Tar Sands, Nikiforuk, a Calgary based writer . . . vividly lays out a damning assessment of energy development in Northern Alberta. —Green & Organic Lifestyles

(2009-05-01)

Tar Sands explores the costs and benefits of the current oil sands boom, placing it in the larger context of global climate change and continental energy policy. The result isn't pretty. Not that the writing isn't compelling: it is. You'll find the same combination of comprehensive research, compelling storytelling and entertaining irony that won Nikiforuk a Governor General's Award for Saboteurs. —Alberta Views Magazine

(2009-05-26)

The Calgary author contends that Canada is starting to resemble the petro-states of South America and the Middle East—rich in oil but short on democracy and freedom of speech—and that Alberta's tar-sands development is mismanaged, environmentally toxic, bad for Canada's autonomy and short on long-term benefits for Albertans. Nikiforuk has a point, and he has guts. He also explains the Tar Sands in a straightforward way, something government and industry have been slow to do, apparently with reason. —National Post

(2009-11-28)

I would recommend reading Andrew Nikiforuk's excellent book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, in which he highlights the fiction of reclamation. I expect the majority of Calgarians would not want tailings ponds in their vicinity, or their water or air to be polluted as it is in northern Alberta. —Calgary Herald

(2009-11-28)

Nikiforuk's book is important. It's provoking. It should restart the national debate. It is an exhaustively researched, comprehensive, survey of everything about the Tar Sands, compressed into some 180 pages. As you would expect, it is not a pretty story . . . Nikiforuk does not belong to the 'don't worry—be happy' school of thought. He's genuinely concerned about our governments' ability to solve the problem that the Tar Sands present . . . Nikiforuk packs an emotional punch that will leave a mark on any reader. —Island Times Magazine

(2010-03-26)

Tar Sands exposes the disastrous environmental, social and political costs of the Alberta oil sands and argues forcefully for a change. —Prairie Books Now

(2010-05-01)

Nikiforuk argues convincingly in Tar Sands that neither Alberta nor Canada has come to terms with the true extent of the environmental devastation. —Alternatives Journal

(2010-05-01)

The environmental problems addressed in [Tar Sands] raise the broader issue of redefining man's relationship to Earth, and underscore the connectedness of life whether tortoise, Texan, or tree. —Foreword Magazine

(2010-11-01)

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Another Albertan sent me this book to read and it was really incredible in understanding the implications of the tar sands in terms of Indigenous communities, the environment, labor, etc. Ignore the bad reviews here on Amazon -- these are all by people who work the tar sands. Understandably they are hurt and there are limited opportunities for employment but that must be balanced against the real and dramatic harm that is happening right now.
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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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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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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.
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It was my main source for my tar sands research paper.
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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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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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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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