Running over Animals in the Path to the Pump

An upgrader plant alongside the open pit tar sands mines north of Fort McMurray, AB; a toxic tailings pond fills the foreground - Photo by David Dodge - The Pembina InstitutePresident Obama denied a permit in January for the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed route over the border from Canada, across the critically important Ogallala Aquifer, on down to the Gulf of Mexico. At an Oklahoma photo-op in March, however, the president expressed support for expedited construction of a southern pipeline leg below the aquifer.

The aquifer, of course, is hardly the only issue. A 2008 report by the Environmental Integrity Project used the word “staggering” to describe the environmental costs of developing Alberta’s tar sands—the source of the “sour crude” slated to flow down the Keystone pipeline to the Gulf. Among those costs are “…the clear-cutting and strip-mining of huge portions of intact boreal forest ecosystem, the creation of vast un-reclaimable toxic lakes of wastewater, the consumption of enormous amounts of water and energy, and the production of three times more greenhouse gas as extracting conventional [sweet] crude oil.”

Not two weeks after the president’s Oklahoma stop, the administration announced it will allow companies to conduct booming seismic surveys of the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas as a first step toward offshore drilling. Meanwhile, dolphins are dying en masse off the coast of Peru—suspected victims of anthropogenic ocean noise (see Unusual Mass Dolphin Stranding in Peru).

In a paper published in the scientific journal Animal Welfare, Chris Genovali and Paul Paquet (authors of the article, Tar Sands Pipelines and Oil Tankers Threaten North American Wildlife) assert that “…most people do not intend for animals to suffer at the expense of humans, but are unwilling to make the changes necessary to prevent degradation of the environment.” In an election year featuring high gas prices, such changes seem even more unlikely. Instead, more animals are apt to fall victim as ethical stances dissolve in a quick-fix slurry of water, oil and sand.