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Canadian Oil Sands Produce Economic Benefits, Environmental Costs

Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago looks at the economic benefits and the environmental costs of oil production in Canada's Alberta province.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now: the environmental costs and economic benefits of getting new oil in Canada's western province of Alberta. Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago reports.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Canada is by far the largest supplier of oil to the United States, sending 1.8 million barrels south every day. And companies are spending billions looking for more, digging under stripped-out forests in search of a form of petroleum called bitumen. Environmental and native groups say the oil, which they call tar sands oil, hurts the air, land and water. They point to what it takes to get it to market.

    And it takes a lot. Huge shovels dig the sand out and bitumen out of the earth and pile it into gigantic trucks. Syncrude, a joint venture among seven oil companies, runs its equipment around the clock 365 days a year.

  • PETER READ, Syncrude:

    A truck will do a round trip in every — anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how long the haul is, typically.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    The bitumen is separated out and pumped to the nearby refinery. The remaining sand and clay, which is highly toxic, is pumped out into tailing or waste ponds that dot the landscape. The process uses an enormous amount of energy, according to Simon Dyer. He works for an institute promoting alternative energy.

  • SIMON DYER, The Pembina Institute:

    The oil sands is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution in Canada. On a per-barrel basis, it takes about — produces about three times as much greenhouse gas pollution extracting and upgrading a barrel of oil from the oil sands as conventional Canadian or North American production.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    But Alberta's minister of the environment, Rob Renner, insists, since Canadian oil doesn't have to be shipped, it's actually no worse for the environment.

    ROB RENNER, minister of environment, Alberta, Canada: We have just concluded a very in-depth study by an independent third party that — that considers the life cycle, sort of the well to wheels on any given source of oil. And the oil sands compare very favorably with conventional oil.

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