Burning the Sands

on May 18, 2011 at 2:40 PM

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Canada is America’s largest supplier of oil and it plans to stay that way.

Accompanied by a handpicked entourage, Alberta’s Minister of Energy Ronald Liepert visited the United States this week to discuss further development of Alberta’s oil sands, which he says lay over a piece of land the size of Wisconsin and only 10% tapped.

“We don’t have the technology yet to extract 90% of our oil,” Liepert told a small group of journalists, investors and energy professionals at a breakfast presentation in New York City on Wednesday.

Alberta oil comes from a country that respects human rights.

While he may be looking for investments in New York, his group traveled to Washington DC after the breakfast to find vital legislative support. Without the U.S. pocketbook and pipeline, Alberta’s bitumen gold may have little value for the Canadian province.

“Our ability to make wealth is determined by legislators in Washington,” Liepert said. He hopes that recent turbulence in the Middle East will convince American politicians that Canada is a more secure and reliable source of energy.

“Alberta oil comes from a country that respects human rights,” Lierpert said.

The process of extracting bitumen deposits from Canada’s sands has attracted controversy. The process requires heating vast sections of the sand deposits till the viscous bitumen petroleum oozes out. The tar-like substance is then diluted with the more watery conventional crude oil to be fit for transport in pipelines and eventual use in engines.

Aboriginal populations that live in the Alberta region have been vocally opposed to oil development. Canadian groups such as the Indigenous Environmental Network and Galdu, the Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, have sought out American political opposition to the tar sands development.

“Pollution from these projects are adversely affecting peoples’ health, way of life and violate established treaty rights,” said a letter – sent to Senator John Kerry in 2009 (D-MA) and other influential US politicians – signed by various leaders of native groups, including the Lubicon Cree Indian Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Beaver Lake Cree Nation. “The tar sands are killing us.”

Liepert acknowledged the environmental impact of the oil sand development, but quickly added that Canada has been working hard to reduce carbon emissions and protect the quality of air, water and local land.

“Carbon emissions are attached to the hip of fossil fuel development,” he said. But, he added, “we live there, [so] we do care,”