Letter to the editor: Tar Sands – Why do we need extreme fuels in Washington’s future?

We should not be complacent about the impending crisis posed by the increasing expansion of tar sands fuel extraction in Alberta. James Hansen, chief climatologist for NASA, recently stated that it will be “game over for the environment” if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved and these dirty fuels are released into our atmosphere. I say “dirty” not only because they produce 15 to 40 percent more greenhouse gases than conventional oil – but also because of the environmental pillage required to extract them. Tar sands extraction is extremely inefficient, requiring one barrel of energy to harvest every three.
National Geographic describes the process:

“To extract each barrel of oil from a surface mine, the industry must first cut down the forest, then remove an average of two tons of peat and dirt that lie above the oil sands layer, then two tons of the sand itself.”

Every day tar sands blended crude oil gets pumped to the West Coast of British Columbia where it is then shipped by tankers to five oil refineries in Washington State. There it gets blended with conventional oil, making up between 5-7% of the total mix. Over 100 of these oil tankers carry their toxic loads into Puget Sound every year, and unlike conventional oil, tar sands oil sinks quickly to the bottom – making cleanup of a potential spill a difficult, if not impossible task. The Washington Department of Ecology estimates a major spill could cost our economy $10 billion and 165,000 jobs. Since 1989, there have been 225 oil spills of various sizes in Puget Sound.

The oil companies assume we will quietly comply to their plans to further degrade our environment – a case of the powerful few profiting at the expense of our Washington State environment and those of us who live here. Tar sands oil production is incredibly toxic and puts Washington State communities and wildlife populations at risk, while setting us back from our goal of transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources.

The City of Seattle should follow the example of the Bellingham City Council, which has voted to avoid using tar sands fuel for its municipal fleet of vehicles. That’s a place to start. We can also support gas stations that commit to pumping tar sands free petroleum, and purchase products/services from companies that have agreed publicly to move towards zero tar sands oil usage – Avon, Chiquita, FedEx, Gap, Levi Strauss, Walgreens, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Liz Claiborne, Bed Bath & Beyond, Quiksilver, American Eagle Outfitters, and Timberland. Just say no to extreme fuels!

Bruce Wolcott

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