Canada is tarnishing its green image by lobbying on behalf of tar sands, labelled in the EU’s proposed revision of the Fuel Quality Directive as more polluting than conventional oil sources, said Indigenous Chief Bill Erasmus, in an interview with EurActiv.
Bill Erasmus is regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations and the national chief of the Dene, a Canadian indigenous group. He spoke by phone from Germany to EurActiv’s Marc Hall. This interview was edited into a shorter form.
Tell us about the situation of tar sands in Canada. What is your personal experience?
Where I’m from we have 31 communities that are immediately downstream from the tar sands development. So they are part of the Dene Nation. And we are part of the greater First Nation community in Canada, which encompasses approximately 630 other communities. We are north of Alberta.
The way the water system works is that in the west, southwest, south, and southeast of us, the water comes north, and so the tar sands lie within that water basin. And the tar sands – the reason we get affected is because of a number of reasons.
One, we get affected because when they extract the bitumen, when they mine it, in order to break it down and make it into oil, they use a great deal of chemicals and in the chemicals, which are very toxic, they include arsenic. Chemicals like arsenic then are put into huge ponds. They’re called tailings ponds.
And the mining, you have to understand, has been going on now since the 1960s. And so these tailings ponds are huge. They’re now lakes, which eventually dry up, but before they dry up they leach into the environment and come downstream to us. And we have people who are now having to wrestle with new diseases like [different] cancers, diabetes and so on. Our people are now not able to hunt and fish and trap like they used to so we are getting directly affected.
The other one is the large amount of water that is being used. In order to develop one barrel of oil, there’s three to four barrels of water being used.