Video: Canada’s Tar Sands: So Destructive It Makes Its Well-Paid Workers Want to Quit

by Brian MerchantFebruary 14, 2012

Cross-Posted from TreeHugger

Amidst all the political wrangling over the Keystone XL pipeline, some may lose sight of what the fight is ultimately about. And that, of course, is one of the most environmentally devastating projects ever undertaken: the tar sands mining operation in Alberta, Canada. Today, a Reddit user who says he was until recently a well-paid tar sands worker, shared the following video—along with why he quit his job over moral objections to the destruction his work was helping to cause.

The video is a year old, but none of the fundamental facts presented therein have changed. The tar sands are still a blight of epic proportions, and the U.S. oil industry and the conservative political establishment are vying to squeeze even more oil out of it. It’s still resulting in the destruction of Canada’s Boreal forest, one of the last and largest swaths of pristine forest in the world—it’s bigger than the Amazon rainforest. And it’s still unclear how much damage it’s doing to public health: officials and investigators aren’t sure how much toxic waste is leeching out and contaminating nearby waterways.

All that is to say nothing of the veritable “carbon bomb” that the tar sands contains—if we were to burn it all, the nation’s top climate scientist, NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, says it would be “game over for the climate”.

So … yeah. Nasty stuff. So nasty, in fact, that the Reddit user, jonnypondwaterwho posted the above video on the website today did so because he had decided to quit his job for moral reasons. Under a post entitled “I just quit my [very well paying] job in Northern Alberta, Canada because I didn’t want to be a part of this: (video)”, he added some commentary. He wrote that

“My job is probably already filled. The oil sands will probably continue to expand and be extracted for the next 30+ years. It is that sort of ignorant “oh well it’s going to happen anyway” attitude that is sending the environmental state in a downward spiral. Me quitting my job was a personal/moral decision I made because I didn’t want to be a part of the wide destruction and contamination of the environment in that area. But hey, maybe I’m just naive. People need to think differently I reckon.”

He also offered an anecdote about life in the worker’s camps in Alberta:

We were living in a newly created camp. We lived in camps for two reasons 1) we were In the middle of nowhere, and 2) we worked for two (sometimes 3) weeks at a time. These were basically a bunch of long portable homes with about 50 rooms in each. There were about 500 people living in this particular camp (some camps have up to 10 thousand people).

This place wasn’t fenced off so you would see the occasional wild animal (bear, deer, moose etc…) on the way to the job site. After about a month I was seeing at least 2 black bears per day in the camp area. They were seen licking the grease from the kitchen dumpster, and trying to scratch there way into bunks … We then had a meeting, our “supervisors” told us we had nothing to worry about and that the bears would be “dealt with”. They had killed these bears needless to say. I would still see bears coming into the area, I would guess they killed up to 10 bears in three months. And that’s just in this small camp of 500. That is but one of my personal experiences. And I believe the pictures explain themselves in the video.

The community at Reddit rallied to support the user’s decision, applauding him for making the right call. I have to say—I share the sentiment.

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Filed under Climate Change, Energy, Indigenous Peoples, Pollution, Tar Sands, Water

0 Responses to Video: Canada’s Tar Sands: So Destructive It Makes Its Well-Paid Workers Want to Quit

  1. Christie

    I believe that the person who left his job did so on purpose. Syncrude Taillings Dam may function like any other bitumen reserve but this doesn’t mean that we should act like it doesn’t impose any danger on our environment. Making liquid fuels from oil sands generates two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases per barrel of final product as the “production” of conventional oil. I’m not saying we should start living like neolithic people but who needs that much energy? We are always the first who support a high consumption and only then also those people who sell the energy to us.

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  3. Eric

    If the world is serious about limiting the use of fossil fuels, then forget about nearly useless wind and solar power and embrace nuclear. If you are not willing to go nuclear then don’t complain about things like the Athabasca Oil Sands or coal mining deaths in China. Your options are; 1) Fossil fuels, until they run out. 2) Nuclear Power. 3) Freeze in the dark. Your choice.

    • There are more choices. Nuclear is not a sane one in our opinion.

    • witsendnj

      As you rightly point out, fossil fuels will run out. Before they run out, they will become scarce and unaffordable.
      Nuclear cannot run without fossil fuels to power, for instance, mining, cooling and transport, so nuclear is not a long term solution either, particularly considering the likely upheaval that will occur when fossil fuels become more difficult to obtain, and it becomes difficult to maintain security, not to mention, the potential for disaster in the event of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornados is increasing rapidly with climate change. And that’s not even counting all the plants already located at sea level, which is going to almost impossible to resolve as sea level rises, most likely not linearly.

      So that leaves freezing in the dark. Many, many generations of people lived satisfactory lives on this earth before we began a fossil fuel binge. The trick, and it is probably just about impossible but worth trying (why not?) is to power down as rapidly as possible by rationing if necessary, relocalize, conserve, recycle, and restore the land.
      If we don’t make a decision to move in that direction, Mother Nature will decide for us, and she won’t be particularly sympathetic towards our perceived need for plastic water bottles and flat screen teevees.

  4. Clive

    As soon as Dr. James Hansen brings up his carbon bomb BS he and this entire article loses all credibility. Stop pushing the CO2 fraud.

  5. Natives came to Toronto to protest the poisons being spewed into the rivers. Bears, moose and natives all get cancer and some actually die.

    Authorities told native hunters to “just eat around the cancerous organs found in moose.”

    Incredible. And it’ll grow in size with long-lasting carcinogenic pollutants spread far and wide.

  6. Betsy

    A part of me really dislike documentaries such as the one above, why? There’s not a damn thing I can do about it. These documentaries always make a statement about the average person making a difference which is a joke since voting and marching out in the streets is MOOT, don’t work and never did. If marching and voting did otherwise western society would be reminiscent of the Jettison’s and not the damn Flintstones.

    All one have to do is go to the United States Patent Office website and search for all the different types of energy production methods that don’t need oil or to pillage the planet. Your eyes will pop from all those patents starting in the 19th century to present of ingenuity to provide energy without damaging the world one lives in. These patents are suppressed not because the big oil companies will be put out of business, oh no they’re suppressed so governments and corporations can do exactly what they’re doing at this moment attempting to destroy this planet. If I’m wrong can anyone explain the willful destruction with the AMEN from politicians and corporations?

  7. gfukkjhew

    the guy that quit the job at the tar sands on moral reasons was a greenbean amoal plant sniper go alberta go nothern ontario is with you

  8. andy

    It’s amazing to see the ignorance of some people posting their replies on here to “get over it”. Yes, trees will be replanted, amimals will come back to the area at some point… the ones that are not extinct, and Canadians everywhere will think that there is no harm being done that won’t be fixed in the future. But in 10 years, when birth defect rise, cancer rates rise, birth rate lower and respiratory problems rise will you finally have the understanding that your federal government has been lying, or better yet just not tell you about the effects of the toxic waste that is being unleashed into the watershed of Canada, of the toxic air we are breathing and tainted waters we drink.
    See, stewardship is about borrowing and replacing with the same or better. I don’t think that the Canadian government has had enough time and the right type of manpower to truly and accurately determine the right protocols that should be in place in Alberta. If the governement keeps thinking of only money, they will lose sight of the horrible effects on the flora and fauna of beautiful Alberta, and at the detriment of Canadian’s as a whole. The governement should take a look at what they want Canada to be like in 10 years, then 30 years and then 60 years and so on. How does the government want our children to live? With hazmat suits and oxygen tanks? The problems that I see are that the people that make all the decisions are people that were once employed with these horrible companies that are just looking to rape another ecosystem. They are not worried about you or me or the black bears or the ducks, their only concern is the bottom line and how to increase it to get that bonus. People no long look at the long term effects of their actions – live in the now, buy now, think of today, instant gratification… a recipe for destruction.

  9. Dave

    The only difference is how dirty your hands are…you can continue driving cars and consuming useless trinkets. While thinking you are not the problem. The demand is driving us to extremes to get oil and natural gas out by almost any means, so anyone who wants to be critical of this must lead by example….Stop driving around one per car, stop buying supplies that are transported across the world, stop buying mass produced low quality goods etc…..the problem is not industry the problem is the consumer. We all have dirty hands

  10. rupert chappelle

    A pipeline to carry water from the Mississippi and Misouri rivers to the west to replenish lakes, the aquifer and refill dry lake beds would be far more reasonable and profitable.

    Benefits of refilling Lake Mead and Powell, supply water for agriculture, population centers and fisheries would also include weather modification as the refilled lakes would provide moisture for rain clouds and combat desertification.

    If the pipes ever break, they always will, water is no problem to clean up after.

    Spend the money for oil pipes and when the oil runs out the pipes are just more mess to clean up. Refilling dry lake beds with water pipes would be a long term project and would not have to be scrapped.

  11. witsendnj

    Anyone who thinks that land mined on such a vast scale can be replaced with anything approaching the level of biodiversity that existed originally is simply revealing an appalling ignorance of the process of evolution and natural selection. An ecosystem over time becomes increasingly complex, with inter-dependent species forming a web of life that resembles perhaps more, a house of cards that took millennia to build. So yeah, it might ultimately be replaced (although even that is debatable, considering the persistant pollutants) but not in anything relevant to human time scales.

    To the extent some of these comments are posted by Canadians, I have to say, I had thought the system of education north of the border was far superior to that of the US. Perhaps I was mistaken.

  12. flacky

    Yeah what about the animals water supply, they have to drink that arsenic laced shite. Yeah sure the whole operation is impeccable,Alaex Sczecy says, pure bullshit, go drink the water yourself, lets see how healthy you remain after 3 years. Youre retarded, and you come from some backwoods 3rd world country and are only here to line your pockets in the quickest way possible, then speculate on Canadian real estate, yourworth to this planet is a big zilch. Harper is an oil zealot, the election was won illegally, conservatives put out disinformation telling voters to vote at non existing polls, then diverting votes from opponent candidates, may Harper be impeached and thrown into jail for rigging elections.

  13. Well this post has certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest. I cannot quite imagine how stripmining a forest the size of Florida will not have negative impacts. Certainly the Indigenous communities in the region that are suffering rising rates of illness and cancer from the contamination of their water and food understand these negative impacts quite clearly. It is for that reason that they have been campaigning for many years to shut down the tar sands gigaproject.

    For those who support this devastating and disastrous mess, imagine looking out your window to find trucks and bulldozers the size of apartment buildings stripmining your neighborhood, dumping toxic chemicals into your water, and destroying your livelihood. And think about the corporate executives, leaning back in their armchairs, smoking cigars to celebrate the billions of dollars they will rake in from the decimation of your community.

    For more information on the horror of the tar sands from the perspective of the Indigenous Peoples of the region, go to:

  14. Alex Szecsy

    You have no idea what you are talking about! This information is completely incorrect. They are cleaning the sand of oil and replacing the environment as they go, Yes a photo of the open pit mine while in progress looks devastating and is great for shock value, if you showed photos of all the mine pits that have been filled back in after the mining was complete you would not be able to tell the difference from the surrounding environment. I am all for helping the environment but you tree hugging johnny polar bear idiots need to get your facts straight or you just end up looking like another bunch of idiots. If your going to try and protect the environment get your damn facts straight! off shore drilling has proven to be much much much more dangerous to the environment! I have worked on projects for a single oil plant that started at $14 billion dollars and ended up being $23 billion to protect the environment! $9 billion!!!! They are the most environmentally cautious areas on the planet! But morons like you just keep posting this nonsense!

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  16. John Taylor

    Any doubts as to why Canada did not sign onto the Kyoto protocols?

  17. Jonas Epstein


  18. I have worked at the tar sands and I think all the hype is nonsense.
    People in Europe have no idea of the scale involved. Alberta is more the twice the size of UK for example.
    The area that are mined have trees planted after the oil is removed. This puts them into cleaner condition than they were originally in.
    Remember that the tar sands were discovered when Peter Pond saw the tar oozing out of the ground naturally. The oil rose to the surface all by itself to pollute the area.
    To claim that the tar sands operation is causing damage to the environment is nonsense. If anything it should be considered as a clean-up.
    As for bears at camps, this is normal. The black bears of Canada come looking for an easy meal. They go to garbage dumps.
    Black bears will come right into a city to find food. Cougars in British Columbia do likewise.
    Bears are shot often in areas where they become a perceived threat to humans. Anyone who visits Canada will notice that we have special strong garbage cans to prevent bears being attracted. Careless humans in towns and cities cause most bear deaths because they do not dispose of garbage in proper containers.
    You could pick on any strip mining operation on the planet and show the scars left behind. Whether it is mining for gold, copper, diamonds or coal few mining companies do as well as the tar sands companies to reclaim the land.
    I worked as an electrician and instrument technician so this is not company PR. I haven’t been on site for many years but I might go back as an inspector some day if the chance come up.

  19. Emery

    very educational…. Maybe not such a good idea to big oil companies control the government, our lives, the planet……. We need the oil because they have successfully suppressed better technologies. If we want to be free of Rockefeller’s oil monopoly we need free access to technology. It has to free so people can use it. As soon as you try to patent it – then your in their system and they will wither buy it or kill you to get it and stop it.

  20. W. MacKenzie

    Oh, get off your high horse…perhaps try showing the reclaimed land with greenspace, trees growing, etc. This will be what is left once the tar sands are finished. Hardly the doomsday you present.

  21. Tannaberton Abacrombie

    Gotta eat…some things have to die…big holes grow over…get over it, the Earth will.

  22. witsendnj

    When Harper said Tar Sands is akin to building the pyramids or the Great Wall…I threw up a little in my mouth. How delusional do you have to be to compare complete and total destruction to architectural monuments. I guess, if you’re talking about the slaves that built them…yeah…that’s the comparison. Now, I get it!

    • fred

      Steven Shalome Harper only cares about how much money he can raise for B’Nai Brith and their/his Israeli bosses. That’s how he keeps his job.

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