Aug 26 and 27 – a perspective shift

New library/ rec centre and pool

New library/ rec centre and pool

It is late. I should be sleeping, so what else is new. I will try to keep this short. I am in Fort McMurray staying with couchsurfers Barry and Helen. I arrived in town just after lunch yesterday and, well,  Fort McMurray is not exactly what I was expecting. What was I expecting you ask? Well, think of all of the news reports that you have heard and what do you think you might find here. I had really decided to give the place a miss. I was told several times that it would be dangerous to come here alone and so I decided that I would only come if I had a solid couchsurfing connection.  I was also a little concerned that I not fall victim to perceptions that I couldn’t verify so, I took the drive and I am glad it did.

Oil Sands Discovery Centre

Oil Sands Discovery Centre

I came into town on a highway that reminded me of the 4o1. 4 lanes of steady traffic to and from town. The first thing I passed was the Oil Sands Discovery Centre so I headed in. I spent about 3 hours. The subject and displays are fascinating.  Hey, Gail, I tried to get a picture of myself with one of those big truck tires like you suggested, but my arms are not long enough, so this picture of a big truck tire beside a pick up truck tire will have to do.

p8260053Just a note: Helen says they are always looking for truck drivers here…and if I would come and take the course, I could probably drive one of those big trucks for a while. I have always wanted to drive heavy equipment.

Anyway, after that I headed into town looking for a wireless internet connection. What I found was a modern, city (approx 100,000), clean, appealingly set at the confluence of the Athabasca and Clearwater Rivers, and very friendly people, most of whom have come from some where else. I was surprised by the diversity of the population, people from all over the world are here. There are many people working in the oil sands but I would say that the average population is very highly educated because so many people are here either to make the oil sands project work , to study how to get the oil out more efficiently or how to make it more environmentally sound.

Home sweet home, one of the worker camps near the mining site. It doesn't look like much from the outside but I am told that there are recreation complexes and everything the workers can want while they live here. The rules for behaviour or very strict though so it might be worse than living with your parents.

Home sweet home, one of the worker camps near the mining site. It doesn't look like much from the outside but I am told that there are recreation complexes and everything the workers can want while they live here. The rules for behaviour or very strict though so it might be worse than living with your parents.

Barry and Helen both work for Syncrude, and both had very balanced views on the impact of the place. Barry said two things that really made me think.

1) the coal fired generating station that is on the Don River generates far more emissions that the total tar sands project right now (maybe not so in the past) and that it could be cleaned up massively but….it is really expensive so there is not political will to do that. The fact is that we are not willing to pay the price for clean fuel and

2)  the tar sands people are working hard at finding new technologies to clean up their acts but all of the extracted oil is then shoved into airplanes, cars and what ever. He wondered if that should be taken into the equation when measuring the damage done by the project up here. That made me stop and think. If the tar sands shut down…would there be less fuel for cars, trucks than what we now used? These days, when calculating ‘real’ costs, environmentalists say that the cost of one can of coke is something like $300 dollars because you have to measure all of the water used, the impact of growing the corn for sugar, the power source , the wages paid to workers etc. So I guess we must measure the environmental cost of a litre of tar sands oil by its eventual uses too. Hard to know where to come down on this. As an environmentalist with a long way to go in my learning, I think  my ire is directed at those who want to use up all of the oil,  ignoring the implications, before the newer and cleaner options are truly explored. Not to mention the short sighted politicians who come down…nowhere, as long as they get re-elected. (sorry Barry, I know you said so much more, and so elegantly too…but between muddled thoughts being included, my memory and the need to paraphrase to preserve space, I hope I haven’t mangled your ideas too bad.)

River side. I wanted to see tar sands in their natural element. It does smell like Oil.

River side. I wanted to see tar sands in their natural element. It does smell like Oil.

So beautiful

So beautiful

Holding a clump of tar filled sand. It made my fingers oily.

Holding a clump of tar filled sand. It made my fingers oily.

I am glad I had an opportunity to visit.  I didn’t find it dangerous and think that if I could have found a camping spot that didn’t have a worker living in it full time, camping in the area would have been great. Again I am grateful to couchsurfing for giving me another opportunity I never would have had. Are you signed up to be couchsurfing hosts yet. Try it. You never know when something new will jump into your life.

Happy 33 Anniversary Fred. Miss you.

Off to bed.

Talk soon.

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