Canada, Alberta Tar Sands - The Most Destructive Project on Earth

"I understand there has to be progress. I understand they want markets outside of Canada, to Asia. But at the same time, how do we balance this with taking care of our Mother Earth? In my opinion, she is in pain now." - Rose Laboucan

The Boreal forests in Alberta, Canada, are a unique and fragile ecosystem which is home to diverse cultures of the First Nation peoples. Their traditions have adapted to this complex landscape over centuries.

Today the landscape is scarred by Tar Sands extraction which has become known as "the most destructive project on Earth". The scale is so enormous that the wound can be seen from space. The oil embedded in the sand lies under 140,000 km2 of forests, equivalent to the size of England. The Tar Sands process emits as much as four times more carbon dioxide than conventional drilling. There is rapid deforestation as trees are cut down and the top layer of peat is removed to reveal the oil sands. Four barrels of water, energy equal to three barrels of oil, and four tons of earth are required to extract one barrel of oil.

The extraction process contaminates the water and creates enormous toxic tailing ponds. It is estimated that thousands of migratory birds die every year when they land on the oily toxic surfaces, many more than the industry is reporting. First Nations communities living close to the oil sands or downstream on the Athabasca River are suffering from higher-than-normal cancer levels and illness.

Warner Nazile, an activist from British Columbia and member of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, said: "It's literally a toxic wasteland, bare ground and black ponds, and lakes tailings ponds with an awful smell."

In January 2012, there was hope when the Obama administration rejected an application from a Canadian firm to build the Keystone XL pipeline stretching 1,700 miles from the Alberta Tar Sands to Texas. However, this does not guarantee that the pipeline will never be built and the struggle to stop new pipelines is not over. First Nations communities are fiercely contesting another planned pipeline , Enbridge's Northern Gateway. 730 miles of pipeline would carry 525,000 crude barrels from the Tar Sands daily to Kitimat on the British Columbian coast, to be shipped to Asia. The pipeline's path is across pristine lakes, mountains and First Nations territory. It is supported by the Canadian government due to the large revenue it will generate. No First Nations in British Columbia have endorsed the pipeline. They fear that inevitable oil spills from the pipeline will leave permanent scars on their ancestral lands which they have a duty to protect for the next generation.

Tar Sands exemplifies the scale and the long-term destruction caused by the new generation of extractive technologies. This permanent damage to huge ecosystems is increasingly understood as 'Ecocide'- a crime against an ecosystem and all the communities who depend on it.

Image: Alberta Oil Sands/Stockphoto/Thinkstock