The Dernogalizer

March 3, 2009

Tar Sands Column

Filed under: Climate Change,Dernoga — Matt Dernoga @ 8:08 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

So I have a column in the Diamondback today. I want to correct a couple of small things that the editors changed. I put “tar sands” everytime I discussed them, but they were changed to “oil sands” for some reason. Other thing is when I mention natural gas is being used to extract the oil from the sands, I say I would rather us be using that natural gas to replace coal plants because it is cleaner than coal. For the record I do recognize natural gas is not clean and not what we should be pursuing, I just would rather us burn it to replace coal rather than burn it to extract tar sands oil.

Energy: A tar-nished reputation

Matt Dernoga

Issue date: 3/3/09 Section: Opinion

Last week, President Barack Obama met with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss energy. The United States and Canada share the largest energy trade partnership in the world, with Canada supplying the United States with more oil and natural gas than any other country. A major point of interest has been the Canadian oil sands, from which Canada is extracting increasing amounts of oil to export to the U.S.

There has been a lot of talk from Obama regarding climate change, environmental protection and clean energy. This has concerned the Canadian government, which wants any climate agreements to exempt their oil sands from regulation. What was Obama’s reaction to this? He folded faster than a caffeinated origamist and agreed that the U.S. and Canada should work together to make the extraction and burning of the oil from the oil sands “clean.” I’ve also heard the tobacco companies are working on a healthy cigarette.

Oil sands production is the dirtiest on Earth. Thousands of acres of forests in Alberta have to be destroyed to get to the oil, and then vast amounts of natural gas need to be used to separate the oil from the sand and clay. The waste from this flows into waterways as toxic sludge. Then we burn the oil. Ironically, since natural gas is used to extract the oil, less of it is shipped from Canada to the U.S.. where it could be used to replace some coal plants and meet America’s growing energy needs. I’d prefer renewables, but natural gas is far cleaner.

This laundry list of environmental crimes is why a Catholic bishop whose diocese includes part of the oil sands released a harsh letter to Canadian oil companies and government leaders. After going into depth about the environmental liabilities I listed above, he concludes that “any one of the above destruction effects provokes moral concern, but it is when the damaging effects are all added together that the moral legitimacy of oil sands production is challenged.”

While Obama and Harper have been tap dancing around oil sands, Mexico has announced one of the boldest plans from developing countries in addressing climate change. A couple of months ago, they put forth an initiative to halve emissions below 2002 levels by 2050 through investments in alternative energy sources and a cap and trade system that puts a price on pollution. They’re working to convert coal and oil plants to natural gas, upgrading their bus fleets and providing strong incentives for forest preservation.

Here’s an idea. Instead of getting tarnished by Canada and shown up by Mexico, Obama should forge a new kind of energy partnership with our neighbors. Negotiate a North American regional climate agreement that eliminates tariffs for clean energy technologies and the products used to make them. At the same time, put a price on pollution from trade that reflects the true cost of activities such as the use of the Canadian oil sands. Share the money generated from this price tag, and use it to invest in new technologies to create jobs, rather than wasting money on trying to make the oil sands clean.

Matt Dernoga is a junior government and politics major. He can be reached at


  1. […] few months ago, I wrote a column about the hypocrisy of the Obama Administration in moving towards a deal with Canada were we import […]

    Pingback by Action Alert: Tell Clinton not to Exploit Tar Sands « The Dernogalizer — July 24, 2009 @ 3:08 pm | Reply

  2. […] and therefore less secure.   The rationale is the carbon emissions from the tar sands in Canada(the dirtiest pollution in the world) , or the processing required from domestic sources offshore and in ANWAR, are greater than […]

    Pingback by Kathleen Parker Loses Her Mind « The Dernogalizer — August 1, 2009 @ 2:47 pm | Reply

  3. […] and therefore less secure.   The rationale is the carbon emissions from the tar sands in Canada(the dirtiest pollution in the world) , or the processing required from domestic sources offshore and in ANWAR, are greater than […]

    Pingback by Kathleen Parker Dead Wrong « The Dernogalizer — August 1, 2009 @ 2:50 pm | Reply

  4. […] oil to the US Gulf Coast.  For reasons why the tar sands are environmentally destructive, see my column from last year.  Below is a notable quote from the letter Waxman […]

    Pingback by Waxman Challenges Clinton over Canada Tar Sands Pipeline « The Dernogalizer — July 7, 2010 @ 8:04 pm | Reply

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