A study from Environmental Defence – co-authored by the National Resource Defence Council, 350.org, Forest Ethics, and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation – argues the oil industry is using the Athabasca River at an unsustainable rate.
In the report, which has not been peer reviewed, the authors argue the amount of water that is allowed to be withdrawn from the Athabasca has nearly doubled since 2001.
“Because of climate change, the water flow in the Athabasca River is expected to decrease by 30% by 2050,” the report, titled “REALITY CHECK: Water and the Tar Sands,” states.
“If industry and government succeed in their goal of tripling tar sands production between 2010 and 2030, growth in fresh water use will increase by 170 per cent,” it says.
“With the Athabasca River already under strain due to climate change and withdrawals during low flow periods, increasing pressure could fundamentally change the nature of the River’s ecosystems.”
The report is the first in a series of six designed to counter the oil industry’s arguments that oilsands operations are sustainable.
Among the claims in the report is that 170 million cubic metres of water was used to extract bitumen in 2011. It also argues 95% of water used in oilsands mining has to be stored in tailings ponds, because it is too polluted to return to the river.
“The tailings lakes are so big they can be seen from space,” reads a media release from Environmenta Defence.
In contrast, the Alberta government argues approximately 80% to 95% of water used in the oilsands is recycled.
The report’s conclusion argues pipeline projects such as Keystone XL or Energy East cannot be approved until the Canadian government begins enforcing harsher environmental regulations on the oil industry. It also states the government should invest more in clean energy, rather than fossil fuels.