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Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent [Paperback]

by Andrew Nikiforuk
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Paperback, March 1, 2009 --  
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Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, Revised and Updated Edition Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, Revised and Updated Edition 3.9 out of 5 stars (10)
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Book Description

March 1, 2009 1553654072 978-1553654070 0

Winner of the 2009 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award , from the Society of Environmental Journalists

Canada has one third of the world’s oil source; it comes from the bitumen in the oil sands of Alberta. Advancements in technology and frenzied development have created the world’s largest energy project in Fort McMurray where, rather than shooting up like a fountain in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, the sticky bitumen is extracted from the earth. Providing almost 20 percent of America’s fuel, much of this dirty oil is being processed in refineries in the Midwest. This out-of-control megaproject is polluting the air, poisoning the water, and destroying boreal forest at a rate almost too rapid to be imagined. In this hard-hitting book, journalist Andrew Nikiforuk exposes the disastrous environmental, social, and political costs of the tar sands and argues forcefully for change.

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Editorial Reviews


"Andrew Nikiforuk paints an alarming picture ... As oil reserves dwindle worldwide, this book sheds frightening new light on the future of energy"— Society of Environmental Journalists

"Nikiforuk lands a knockout blow on the kissers of the oil industry, oil-friendly bureaucrats, and petrol-guzzling North Americans"— Sustainablog

"Required reading for the President in preparation for his first foreign trip"— Huffington Post

Product Details

  • Paperback: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Greystone Books (March 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1553654072
  • ISBN-13: 978-1553654070
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,334,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A thorough examination of the consequences of the tar sands project in Alberta. The author looks at this situation from a number of angles, including the project's water and methane usage, the wasting of the Athabascan watershed and millions of acres of boreal forest, the ruinous air quality in the area where the bitumen is refined, the devastation of community and economy in the area surrounding Fort McMurray, the contribution dirty oil makes to climate change, the possibility of nuclear reactors being used simply to help power the project, the failure of the project to benefit the citizens of Alberta, the redirection of the oil itself to the United States, and the growing "Saudi Arabization" of Canada and particularly of Alberta.

My biggest complaint with the book is that the author all but ignored making any consideration for the Dene people, whose ancestral land is being turned into a moonscape in the name of "energy security". I also disliked the author's nonsensical belief that driving less is an effective means of helping to halt the tar sands project. As a non-driver, I do not believe this. I can understand a corporation using the "It's up to individual consumers to change things" remedy to social and environmental ills, but it's depressing to hear it come from the social and environmental activists themselves.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars tar sands December 10, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A real eye opener to the envionmentalTar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, Revised and Updated Edition impact of strip mining
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20 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dick Cheney comes to Canada December 29, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Andrew Nikiforuk has done us all a great favour in writing this impassioned book about the Alberta Tar Sands and the social, environmental and political devestation they are causing. Mr. Stephen Harper has revealed himself as the Dick Cheney of Canada, a scheming figure, intellectually in debt to the carbon fuels industry, with great personal integrity and a passionate contempt for democracy, especially parlimentry democracy.

Mr. Nikiforuk begins his book with XXII propositions (I will not repeat them all here) which are a strong call to action for anyone concerned with the environment, Canadian society and politics and the people of the Athabasca. He follows this with a detailed history of the tar sands development and its impacts. Bitumen is a very dirty and inefficent fuel and that we are turning to it as an alternative shows how far we have gone down the road of carbon degredation. Nikiforuk points out that integrating the North American energy market around fossil fuels will effectively remove what ever political independence Canada has (a long time goal of the Harper Conservatives) and will reconstitute Canada as a client energy slave of the US. It will make it impossible for Canada to meet any international agreements on carbon reduction (another goal of the Harper Conservatives) and lock Canada into a path of declining international relevance as the world moves into a post-carbon economy and a devestated landscape.

After reading this book I went over to Google Maps and cruised around the Fort McMurray and the enviromental disaster in the making is already clearly visible.

This book reinforces how important it is to stop Harper and his carbon fueled political machine.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By teacher
I am drawn to write a review of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent after reading the negative reviews of Nikiforuk's book. He does like to paint a vivid picture, and sometimes lapses into hyperbole, but the wealth of information in here is comprehensive and well-sourced in an extensive bibliography. This book covers the history, culture, production, corruption, social impacts, and ecological devastations of the Tar Sands oil extraction in Alberta, Canada. The author also provides his own predictions (as terrible as that may seem), and offers a set of common sense solutions. The corruption of local and national political forces by big oil conglomerates, however, makes any of the solutions presented difficult to imagine really occurring.

This book gives necessary background on an important and colossal, yet somewhat hidden from Americans, ecological rape happening to the North American continent. My only criticism is that I wish he had included more perspectives from First Nation people such as the Athabascan nation. This is a book to read, and then get angry over, and then move to become active in promoting environmental justice and sanity over the extreme greed of the oil industries.
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37 of 59 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Superficial, Misleading, and Politically Slanted August 11, 2009
You wouldn't want to read this book if you wanted other than a superficial picture of the oil sands. The author is a left-leaning Canadian nationalist with a strong anti-American bias, has a definite political agenda, and is not averse to slanting the facts and statistics to support it. Even the title is misleading. Chemically speaking, TAR is a man-made substance, produced by destructive distillation of organic matter, but the "tar sands" actually contain BITUMEN, an extremely heavy grade of crude oil. (Since I have a degree in chemistry, I find the mislabeling annoying.) The difference between tar and bitumen is important, since an oil refinery would be unable to process tar, whereas it can handle bitumen by using more sophisticated refining processes.

Nikiforuk calls the oil sands "dirty oil", but this is misleading, since there is really no such thing as clean oil - it's all dirty to some degree. Crude oil is usually black, sticky, full of salt water and sand, contains varying amounts of sulfur, and is often contaminated with heavy metals. What you see when you buy a can of motor oil is a refined product, with all the contaminants removed. The author's claim that, "Each barrel of bitumen produces three times as much greenhouse gas as a barrel of conventional oil" is highly misleading. He's comparing it to Arab oil production circa 1960. Even the Arabs need to use more energy these days, and the difference between producing Alberta bitumen versus California Kern River heavy oil is in the range of 10 to 20 percent. More importantly, the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions occur when you burn it in your car, not when it is produced.
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