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The dirty facts behind tar sand transport

UM professor George Price details opposition to ‘megaload’ transports through aboriginal lands

By Lailani Upham

George Price, People's Action member and University of Montana Native studies and African American studies presents a 20-minute showing of part one of a 2011, film documentary, "To the Last Drop," a story of small town, Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta and the consequences of being the first to witness the impact of the Tar Sands project. (Lailani Upham photo)George Price, People's Action member and University of Montana Native studies and African American studies presents a 20-minute showing of part one of a 2011, film documentary, "To the Last Drop," a story of small town, Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta and the consequences of being the first to witness the impact of the Tar Sands project. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — Last Thursday George Price, Indian Peoples Action member and professor of Native American Studies and African American Studies at the University of Montana, paid a visit to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council on behalf of the voice that is echoing not only throughout Indian Country, but across the globe to save the Earth and the future generations from further harm.

The topic: opposing the Keystone XL pipeline project. Protestors see it clearly as a pathway to pollution than a gateway to the gas pumps.

It has been cited as a deadly threat to public health and crisis to the climate.

The $5.3 billion Keystone project is a 1,700 -mile pipeline that will transport 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil every day from Alberta, Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, largely for export.

Price’s presentation included a 20 minute YouTube clip, called, “To The Last Drop: Canada’s Dirty Oil Sands.”

During the discussion Price mentioned the January protest in Missoula when megaload trucks of the tar sands were en route through the area. The majority of the group were members of the People’s Action based in Butte.

Price said the group was acting on behalf of neighboring Tribes in Canada. “Our indigenous brothers and sisters in the First Nations communities of Alberta, have been affected most directly and severely from the contamination of their water, air and wild natural food sources,” he stated.

Price added that “We also expressed that all life on Earth is being deeply affected and endangered by this filthy and completely unnecessary business.”

What is a Megaload?
A “megaload” is an oversized transport longer than a football field and can weigh tons filled with equipment for processing bitumen, a tarry substance found in an area of Canada known as the tar sands, or oil sands  that is hauled by a rig and trailer that takes up two lanes in a highway and can’t fit under a bridge. They have been known to crack highways and bridges, causing tax payers to pay the road reconstruction tab.

This was not the first time Montanans rallied to oppose tar sands megaloads. In 2010 and 2011, ConocoPhillips transported megaloads down Highway 12 through the Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest and into scenic highways in Montana, including Highway 93.

CSKT Arlee Representative, Terry Pitts, mentioned that action was taken at that time by council to support the opposition of the loads being transferred through the highways. CSKT filed with the Nez Perce Tribe regarding the transportation through Highway 12.

Pitts and the rest of the council agreed with Price by stating they supported the opposition tar sands transports.

In the tar sands news documentary, Paul Wihbe, Oil Industry Consultant, a person known to clear the path into the United States, stated the Alberta refinery was the largest and holds eight times more the reserves than Saudi Arabia. He stated, “American politicians are beginning to realize.”

Supporters say Keystone XL would create thousands of jobs and cut U.S. fuel costs by reducing the nation’s reliance on oil imports from nations that are less friendly than Canada.

Reuters reported on January 27 that the project is in limbo while the U.S. State Department finalizes an environmental review, a long-delayed process that has irked allies in Ottawa and advocates on both sides of the issue in the United States.

However, behind the scenes, a complex political calculus is at play from timing of the decision to the outcome.

A decision by President Obama, to approve the pipeline could undermine the Democratic president’s environmental credentials and anger activists who have supported him just as his administration is writing new rules to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Then again, a decision against the pipeline could undercut Obama’s pledge to boost employment and U.S. energy security while alienating an important international ally and oil supplier.

A 380-foot 450-ton megaload truck travels through Idaho in December. (Courtesy photo)A 380-foot 450-ton megaload truck travels through Idaho in December. (Courtesy photo)

No matter what he decides, an announcement before the midterm congressional elections in November, could make Keystone a big issue in the races that will determine control of the U.S. Congress.

Regardless of political agenda, the bottom line is the air and water are becoming toxic already and will increase in years to come.

According to “The Last Drop” report, Jack Woodward, author of “Native Law,” stated under Canadian law and the British Superior Law the tribal people own that part of Alberta. “In the treaty the Cree Indians had the right to hunt and fish. Except now if you look at Alberta where the tar sands developments are. The developments are so vast and the destruction is so intensive that is now fair to say that treaty rights themselves are no longer meaningfully exercised, because the habitat of the animals are being destroyed right before our eyes.”

Fish in the Athabasca River have been deformed for years. Fort Chipewyan commercial fisherman Larry Paquette said, “We don’t eat the fish anymore because they are all deformed and their flesh looks like acid ate them.”

An article in the National Geographic described the tar sands as, “Dark satanic mills.”

Canada Fort Chipewyan Dene Chief, Allan Adam stated, “When I entered into politics I thought we were going to cash in on the economic development in the region and be part of the whole atmosphere and work on it from there. But as we got into it around seven to nine people were diagnosed with cancer in the last two years and have passed on and that is alarming number we have to deal with. We live by the lake shore of Lake of Athabasca. It’s our turn now to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Fort Chipewyan resident, Jonie Wanderingspirit tells of her two uncles, an aunt and a grandmother that all died of cancer, many of tumors in that region in the “The Last Drop” documentary report. She said she was worried about her children and parents and herself about getting cancer. “We all cope, everybody grieves.”

According to Andrew Nikiforuk, author of “Tar Sands: Dirty Oil” says arsenic is a cancer maker and is associated with bitumen production.

Bitumen is a various mixture of hydrocarbons (as tar) often together with their non-metallic derivative that occur naturally or are obtained as residue after heat-refining into petroleum. Nikiforuk stated, “The more you process those deposits the more you are going to bring arsenic, lead, and heavy metal to the surface and if you’re not careful over time you will see larger and larger pulses of arsenic and other cancer makers enter waterways.”

Whitefish from Lake Athabasca, collected by Ray Ladouceur, Dec. 2009. (photo courtesy of Kelly/Radmanovich.)Whitefish from Lake Athabasca, collected by Ray Ladouceur, Dec. 2009. (photo courtesy of Kelly/Radmanovich.)

Dr. John O’Connor, a physician at Fort Chipewyan reported that he has seen a high number of lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and cancers in patients. “Statistically I am not supposed to see but one in 100,000. It is certainly one that can be connected to toxins in the environment.” He admitted testing is not being done in the community on the health tragedies regarding the environmental dangers.

Instead of health studies he then found accusations against him and had to leave his practice. The reason? “Raising undue alarm.”

Dr. Gina Solomon a professor of medicine at the University of California stated she looked into the elevated cancer cases in that area and found a soft tissue sarcoma cancer that is linked with exposure to oil and petroleum products. It is a tragic and fatal cancer. She said it surprising to see even two cases in a small town.

Price emphasized that we are down river of the tar sands and it’s a matter of time that our environment and treaty rights within the U.S. will be effected.

The 1,179 mile pipeline is expected to cross Montana and South Dakota before reaching Nebraska, to where it will then reach the Gulf.

According to the Associated Press, federal agencies have until early May to comment on the State Department report before Secretary of State John Kerry makes a recommendation to Obama on whether the project is in the national interest. State Department approval is needed because the pipeline crosses a U.S. border.

President Obama told governors at a White House meeting on Monday that he expects to decide on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline in the next few months.

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