Oil Sands dirty business, study says

by | Nov 23, 2012 | Biz/Tech

Pollutants have been found in snow up to 50 kilometres from oil sands sites. COURTESY WIKICOMMONS

By Jessy Bains

It appears the oil sands really are a dirty business – even dirtier than uranium.

A recent study by an Environment Canada scientist, David Muir, revealed that contaminants are settling up as far away as 100 km from oil sands operations in northern Alberta.

There are also several old uranium mines within close proximity of where the pollutants were found, including one in Cluff Lake, Sask., but scientists have ruled out uranium as a cause.

David Schindler, an aquatic scientist at the University of Alberta, conducted a study similar to Muir’s in 2010. He told Humber News that uranium was one of the elements studied as a possible pollutant.

“Uranium is quite low in any of the samples we studied, we couldn’t detect it in stack emissions,” he said.

He added that while Muir’s study found pollutants in a footprint were four times larger than what he found, both studies identified the oil sands as being the culprit.

“The pattern of deposition that we and Environment Canada found are like a bulls eye with the two upgraders that are right across the river from each other,” said Schindler.

“All of the evidence points to these air born sources,” he said.

An upgrader is a facility that upgrades bitumen into synthetic crude oil.

One of the most troubling findings of Muir’s study was that potent atmospheric pollutants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were found in lakes up to 100 km away.

“One would not expect polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons to result from uranium mines,” said Schindler.

Schindler said the studies suggest a closer look at the oil sands and its environmental impact is needed.

“Maybe it’s time we slow down, and got our homework done on the extent of pollution from these oil sands before we do what industry wants us to do and try and dig up the whole area and try to extract these things all at once,” said Schindler.

Listen here for an exclusive interview with University of Alberta aquatic scientist, Dr. David Schindler