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Muck and brass
Muck and brass
Rising oil prices and falling production costs favour the extraction of oil from Alberta’s tar sands. But environmental objections are fierce

Jan 20th 2011 | CALGARY AND OTTAWA | from the print edition
  • SMOKESTACKS dot the horizon; a whiff of oil hangs in the air; gargantuan vehicles clog the highway. There is a din of heavy machinery, punctuated by blasts from cannons scaring birds away from toxic lakes. But golf courses and suburban housing make the place liveable, and some locals have grown attached to Alberta’s tar sands and Fort McMurray, the town at the centre of them. “I’d like my son and grandson to work here,” says a worker at one of Shell’s mines.

    He may get his wish. After a brief hiatus during the economic downturn, world oil consumption is rising again, pushing the price of a barrel towards $100. By 2035, believes the International Energy Agency (IEA), demand may reach 110m barrels per day (b/d), about 20% more than in 2009. For those who exploit the tar sands, which contain the world’s second-largest trove of oil, this is a welcome forecast.

“We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. We know that in secrecy error undetected will flourish and subvert”.J Robert Oppenheimer.

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