Tag Archives: Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent

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.

Dunreith’s Birthday, Coming Attractions


Tracy Kidder will be speaking in Wilmette on Tuesday.  I'll write more about his latest book tomorrow, but am celebrating Dunreith's birthday today.

Tracy Kidder will be speaking in Winnetka on Wednesday. I'll write more about his latest book tomorrow, but am celebrating Dunreith's birthday today.

Dunreith continues her weekend-long birthday celebration today, so I’m not posting long.

However, I will be writing soon about a couple of books I’ve read recently.

Tracy Kidder’s latest book, Strength in What Remains, is the story of a young man who survived genocide in Burundi and moved to the United States, where he resumed his medical studies and eventually returned to help his home country.

Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, which exposes the multiple negative consequences of chewing up the sands of Alberta, Canada in a relentless pursuit of oil is an enlightening and disturbing piece of muckraking journalism.