McMurray aflame!

The shocking news about the northern Canadian outpost city of Fort McMurray being engulfed by fire, states Iain Robertson, is a clear by-product of oil company greed over natural need.

Having resided in the northern part of the Canadian Province of Alberta during my early working life, I can state categorically that the continuous raping of its massive expanses of pristine arboreal landscape have been a recipe for potential disaster for more than the past forty years.

Around ten miles north of this formerly sleepy Chipewyan Indian settlement, oil was discovered. However, it was not by conventional means of drilling. In some ways, the Athabascan Oil Sands, worked originally by Sunoco (Sun Oil Company) and Bechtel, is not dissimilar to the current political craze for fracking.

The process gives the appearance of being simple but is fraught with issues that relate directly to bringing something potentially dangerous to the surface that has lain dormant for many millions of years. It takes the form of clearing the forest floor, digging down to the sand layer, extracting the sand, washing it and allowing crude oil to be recovered off the surface.

I worked for almost six months for Bechtel, as a Jitney Bus driver around the fast-growing site. It was hugely impressive. Monster scraping shovels loading trucks, within the steel wheels of which I, at 6 feet 6 inches tall, could stand upright, were an everyday sighting and there were hundreds of them. The scent of the oil would permeate nostrils and clothing and residues would destroy working boots. Yet, there was the omnipresent danger of pollution and fire.

In the years since I left Fort McMurray, I have heard terrible tales about higher than average reported cases of cancers of different types among residents. I have heard about the rivers local to the sands being polluted to such an extent that the wildlife population was decimated in what had been a traditional moose, deer, fish and wildcat hunting ground. What was a boom-town was fast becoming a doom-town. The political backlash has divided people of all denominations and races.

The ultimate turnaround has now occurred. The sands beneath the thin natural crust, no matter how the fire started, contain a surprisingly high grade of oil. Oil is flammable. However, putting out this fire will demand far greater skills than those belonging to the sometime master roustabout, Red Adair.

The damage to the locale is already extensive. All of the 100,000+ population have been forced to flee their homes, their personal possessions and their wealth. The town of Fort McMurray will cease to exist in the devastating wake of this major conflagration.

I remain strongly opposed to the human act of defying Mother Nature by emptying her reserves. It is bad enough drilling for oil, because, no matter how refilling the subsequent cavities, either on land, or in the sea, is carried out, it will never replicate the original conditions of pressure and volumetric displacement.

Perhaps that is why we have an increasing number of earth tremors and quakes to deal with? Surely, by now, our scientists have the wherewithal to create fuels and lubricating substances, without resorting to the depletion of natural resources?

Of course, the fire will burn out…eventually. We can only hope that, as with other natural disasters, our world will heal itself, as it has a tendency to do so. The local environment will recover, in time. However, how many more major scars does our earth have to incur and endure, before we all learn to be more judicious and less squandering of our natural resources? Time is not even a luxury, any more.

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