The Crude in Syncrude: ugliness at the tar sands duck trial
Posted March 3, 2010
You want to know just how tone-deaf the tar sands industry and their Big Oil backers are? Yesterday, in a trial over the death of 1600+ ducks that had landed in a toxic mining runoff lake, lawyers for the Canadian tar sands company Syncrude lambasted wildlife officials for shooting ducks with a camera instead of a shotgun.
The high profile trial revisits the shameful 2008 incident when the water birds drowned in the company’s tailings pond. Apparently, horrific images of oiled and incapacitated birds (like the one above) abound in the trial and that seems to have Syncrude’s lawyers particularly worked up. Rather than owning up to their own responsibility for creating the situation (they plead not guilty and say they couldn’t have predicted it), the company’s lawyers took exception with the photos being taken in the first place. According to the Globe and Mail:
One particularly poignant sequence of images showed a duck being circled by a raven, then attacked and eventually eaten. A second raven then joins in. The pictures, taken by a senior Alberta wildlife biologist, are disturbing.
But Syncrude lawyer Robert White attacked the biologist, Todd Powell, for taking photos of the attack rather than shooting the distressed duck.
“What was more important to these people? Horrifying us with pictures of these ravens eating that poor duck? Why not put that poor thing out of its misery and shoot it?” he said. “They were far more interested in bringing photographs of that poor thing being eaten alive, which makes me sick to my stomach … than they were looking after the suffering of that animal.”
Hmmm. Sick to his stomach from the horrible death of birds incapacitated by merely coming into contact with the toxic slop that Syncrude created? Sick to his stomach to see WATER BIRDS drowning after coming into contact with their improperly managed waste? (The article notes that the wildlife folks were indeed forced to gun down dozens of birds.)
The lawyer complained that wildlife officials were using the suffering birds like props in a play, but let’s not forget that Syncrude created the whole drama. And sadly, it’s a drama that is likely playing out regularly. Surely not 1600 birds at a time, but last year’s Danger in the Nursery report illustrated a very ugly toll being taken in one of the most important regions of the world for migratory birds.
The death of these birds is hardly the worst or most ugly aspect of the tar sands industry’s woeful environmental record. The impact that they are having on the region’s water (Susan Casey-Lefkowitz has some ugly data on that aspect of Syncrude's operations in her recent post), the health concerns from nearby communities, the insanely high carbon emissions associated with the extraction and processing of this goo, and the moonscapes stretching to the horizon of the Boreal forest are all arguably much worse sins. But the images of tarred birds are undeniable.
And blaming the folks who brought them to the world’s attention? Well, that’s just crude...
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