Andrew Nikiforuk’s Outrage about the Tar Sands of Alberta


Shots like this spark Andrew Nikiforuk's outrage.

Shots like this spark Andrew Nikiforuk's outrage.


Andrew Nikiforuk is a muckraking journalist from Alberta, Canada, and, unfortunately, he has literally tons of muck to rake.

Alberta is the site of some of the Athabasca Oil Sands, the world’s second largest oil reserve, and some of the planet’s most extensive and labor intensive extraction. 

Nikiforuk details the many interrelated and universally negative consequences of the lust for what many have called “black gold” in Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of A Continent. 

Each page of this relatively short book drips with Nikiforuk’s outrage, and his concern as a Canadian, a citizen and a father does not stop him from writing a meticulously detailed explanation of the Albertan oil scene.  

In his telling, the lust for oil has been enabled by a combination of inordinately high levels of consumer demand from the U.S.-Canada has been the biggest importer of oil to America since 2001-and lax governmental enforcement. 

The results have been catastrophic. 

The particular type of oil drilling involves digging deep into the tar sands and then separating the bitumen from the rest of the material that is extracted.  

This is the equivalent to an environmental triple whammy, in that the land is destroyed and tremendous amounts of natural gas and water are required for the cleaning process. 

The environmental consequences are just part of the problem, though. 

Nikiforuk also devotes several chapters to the social consequences, too.

A veritable boom town and accompanying mentality reminiscent of gold rush era California, has sprung up in Fort McMurray and other local communities.  Immigrants from all over the world have flocked to seek work, according to Nikiforuk.

At one point in the book he links what he considers to be a higher presence of gas guzzling vehicles to the easy money that is flowing throughout the area.  He also writes about the drug subculture that has sprung up in Alberta. 

Nikiforuk has a sense of history that complements and amplifies his sense of moral violation.  He makes the connection between this and previously material resource booms like the strip mining that devastated Appalachia, for example.

Apparently, some now consider Nikiforuk an advocate, and thereby consider his work to have less journalistic merit.  While his inclusion in the front and back of the book of a list of steps people can take gives some credence to that characterization, I would still maintain that hat view would is not completely accurate. 

On his web site, Nikiforuk includes many of the essential documents that buttress his case.  

Beyond that, while the social consequences of the oil boom may be debatable and harder to link specifically to the discovery and mining of oil, the environmental impact of this particular form of oil extraction. 

In March of this year, National Geographic did a story that illustrates the wreckage that Nikiforuk depicts.  While that article is a useful introduction, I would strongly recommend that people summon their strength and read his courageous, urgent and informative book.

5 responses to “Andrew Nikiforuk’s Outrage about the Tar Sands of Alberta

  1. absolutely hideous.

    It simply amazes me how money can so easily sever a person’s connection with the Earth. I wonder how the execs that make this happen can go about living in their manicured enclaves and vacationing in the planet’s beauty while simultaneously raping her.

    inre: Nikiforuk’s “advocacy” -how can someone expose such horrendous crime and not propose doing something to end it?

  2. Hello Jeff.

    I would like to see some pictures of the devastation, could you tell me where they are available?


    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Anders, for your note. My brother Jon Lowenstein took a lot of pictures of the devastation and of the people in the area. His photo agency Noor has some of the pictures he took on their web site; you could also Google “Jon Lowenstein” and “Consequences” or email him at

      Good luck!


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