Peak Oil and resistance to Tar Sands extraction

Map of the Athabasca Oil Sands from WikipediaWe'd a national Shell to Sea meeting in Dublin this Saturday at the end of which we had a talk from Heather Milton Lightening of the Indigenous Environmental Network about the struggle against Tar Sand extraction in Alberta, Canada.  This is a filthy process that involves vast open cast mines, tailing ponds that can be seen from space and the use of huge quantities of water and energy making it a major cause of climate change.  Back in 2006 I mentioned the dangers it posed in the conclusion of the article 'The politics and reality of the peak oil scare'  I wrote with Chekov Feeney.

At the time we wrote "The energy debates provide a useful mechanism for exposing the irrationality of capitalism. For instance, the market will decide the balance between supply and demand solutions to energy needs. Yet the most profitable solutions - like using unconventional oil resources - may also be the ones that require vast quantities of energy to extract and which in themselves, and because of this, will result in massive additional releases of CO2. .. It could well be that the root to securing greatest profit for capital is that of exploiting the unconventional oil deposits. In that context feeding the panic about energy supply, and in particular the idea that renewable energy cannot be an alternative, is a very serious mistake as it would encourage many people to accept what would be a very polluting source of energy over efficiencies and renewable energies.

The greatest threat to most humans is not peak oil but rather global warming. Changing weather patterns and rising sea levels already threaten hundreds of millions of the poorest people on the planet. In that context, there is a real danger of peak oil hysteria simply playing the role of a distraction from the need to make real rational decisions about energy production."

About a year after this article was published speculation drove the price of oil through the roof fueling a huge boom in Alberta as tar sands exploitation suddenly became extremely profitable.  When I was living in Ontario, thousands of kilometers to the east conversations about the huge wages being paid to workers in Alberta were common place, as Heather mentions in the talk a majority of male Newfoundlanders are now working on the tar sands.  The huge amounts of energy being consumed (and the accompanying release of CO2) mean that Canada cannot make its Koyoto targets without some very dodgy 'carbon trading.'

I've published an audio recording of Heather's talk on, you'll find a list of the subjects covered below.  It includes some quite interesting critique of the methodology of some of the big Greenpeace style NGO's.  Some of this is specific to the context of the First Nations in Canada but much of it also has a relevence to struggles in Rossport and elsewhere.

The timing of the talk was fortuitous, I recently researched a talk on the Copenhagen climate summit (COP 15) for an internal WSM branch discussion and realised that there is a real lack of a decent class struggle anarchist analysis of climate change.  I'm hoping to make the time to do some research and writing on this topic - if you've any recommendations email me at andrewnflood AT


Heather Milton Lightening of the Indigenous Environmental Network on Tar Sands by Andrew Flood on Mixcloud


These are the areas the talk covers

What is tar sand
The mining / extraction process
effect on the watershed
the pipeline network
energy security and NAFTA
resistance to the pipelines
First Nation treaty process
impact of the recession
high cancer rates
low regulation standards of Alberta
Why this trip to Europe
Action at Copenhagen COP15
Bear Butte gathering
Big NGO's, community accountability
indigenous people speaking for themselves
Carbon trading in Canada
Koyto targets and the tar sands
International ban on tar sands development
employment in the tar sands
communities not wanting to take public positions
gap between community leadership and grassroots
watershed issues
fallout of uranium mining
uranium company buying out opposition
lack of environmental monitoring
tailing ponds and wildlife kills
difficulties of direct action
how are the legal actions being fought
melting ice caps and the pipelines
victories against Shell has seen them switch to tar sands
Olympics in BC
Red Oil network in Alaska
tar sands and Copenhagen
arrests and colonialism

You can access the audio of this talk on indymedia at

You'll find more information on the Indigenous Environmental Network at

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter ) 


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