A local approach to a global issue

Out of sight, out of mind is how manufacturers like to keep the tar sand mining business and the extension of the Keystone Pipeline in Alberta, Canada.

Members of the community concerned about the issue of tar sand’s effects on the environment and people’s health gathered in the Smith Building Thursday. ASWSU Environmental Sustainable Alliance and the WSU Environmental Science Club organized the event, said Brian Koepke, the outreach coordinator for both clubs.

Members of the community traveled from Moscow to the tar sands in Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, to walk with natives of the area and protest the tar sands mining, said Pat Rathmann, member of the Palouse Environmental Sustainable Coalition (PESC). Members referred to the walk as a “healing walk through the tar sands.”

Rathmann has been to the healing walk twice and plans to go again in July.

“I’m returning because the struggle is not yet over and the battle not yet won,” Rathmann said.

Rathmann went to the tar sands in the summer of 2012 after viewing a documentary on oil sands. 

“After I saw that documentary I thought, ‘I can’t believe this,'” she said. “‘This is total destruction. I have to go see for myself. Maybe this film was just exaggerating everything.’ But when I got there, I found it was no exaggeration.”

Rathmann said it was worse than she imagined. 

The tar sands are created through the process of separating bitumen, an asphalt, from sand. The product is then chemically altered by steam and then finally turned into manmade crude oil, PESC member Anne Remaley said. Explosive chemicals are added to the oil so it is available for use in transportation.

The tar sands lie adjacent to the Athabasca River, a large river that residents of Alberta use as a drinking source, Remaley said.

Workers of the tar sands are paid highly but risk their health, Remaley said. In 11 years of tar sands mining, the rate of cancer among workers rose 30 percent, she said.

Tar sands are disastrous for the environment, Remaley said. Bitumen does not float like regular oil, but instead it sinks to the bottom where fish eggs lie. This affects fish health, and they have grown tumors due to bitumen in the river.

Chemicals that are released during the manmade oil process negatively impact the ozone layer and result in climate change, said James Blakely, a member of the Idaho Chapter Sierra Club and cofounder of the 350 Boise club.

Members also hope to stop the expansion of the Keystone Pipeline, called the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, Blakely said. It would be the largest pipeline in the U.S. and track 1,980 miles from Alberta to Nederland, Texas, and carry up to 830,000 barrels of toxic sands oil per day. Keystone XL will run through one of the largest aquifers in the U.S., a main drinking water source.

The original Keystone Pipeline leaked 12 times in the first year, Blakely said.

Blakely and 15,000 individuals were part of a mass sit-in at the White House in November 2011, when they asked President Obama to stop the expansion of the pipeline.

“I’m here to paint you a picture of an industry that is wrecking people’s lives,” Blakely said.