Extraction and refining heavy oil from Canadian tar sands will have increasingly devastating impacts on migratory bird populations, according to a new study.
According to a new report, the cumulative impact of developing Canadian tar sands over the next 30–50 years could be as high as 166 million birds lost, including future generations. Written by scientists from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Boreal Songbird Initiative, and Pembina Institute, the peer-reviewed paper suggests that avian mortality from continued development of Canada’s tar sands would provide a serious blow to migratory bird populations in North America.“This report is yet another wake up call to the government in Alberta, as it confirms that the cumulative impact of oil sands development is on an unsustainable trajectory,” said Pembina Institute’s Simon Dyer, a contributing author to the report.
It is estimated that half of America’s migratory birds nest in the Boreal forest, and each year 22–170 million birds breed in the area that could eventually be developed for tar sands oil if the rate of development continues at it is currently planned.
“At a time when bird populations are rapidly declining, this report puts into perspective the far reaching effects of tar sands oil development on North America’s birds,” said the report’s lead author Jeff Wells, Ph.D. of the Boreal Songbird Initiative. “The public needs to understand the real and long-term ecological costs of this development and determine if this is acceptable,” added Wells.
In Alberta, tar sands mining and drilling causes significant habitat loss and fragmentation. Expansive toxic tailings ponds are protected by propane cannons that are used to keep ducks from landing in them.
When those cannons fail, we see unfortunate accidents like the one this past summer in Alberta when some 500 ducks were killed after landing in a tailings pond. Toxic tailing ponds result in 8,000 to 100,000 oiled and drowned birds annually.
Authors of the report suggest that an immediate solution to the unsustainable pace of development and to environmental problems relating to tar sands oil development is a moratorium on all new projects, project expansions, and to clean up existing projects.
For Canada to take the kind of substantive action necessary to prevent the ecological damage suggested by this report, it may require international pressure; the kind of pressure that could be applied by a renegotiated NAFTA that strengthens environmental laws, something that president-elect Obama has suggested he would like to see.
Images courtesy of: 1. & 3. David Dodge/Pembina Institute; 2. & 4. D. Faucher/Ducks Unlimited; 5. Sun Media Corp.