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Want to learn about the complexities of the extraction of oil from the underground bitumen deposits in northern Alberta? Have a concern about climate change? Interested in engineering advances in extraction methods? Care about ducks? Do oil spills give you pause? Will temperatures rise another 2℃ in the next 20 years? Ever think about where the gasoline you put in your automobile comes from? Does alternative energy sources excite you?
Read this book.
Bestselling author Chris Turner brings readers onto the streets of Fort McMurray, showing the myriad ways the oilsands impact our lives and demanding that we ask the question: To both fuel the world and to save it, what do we do about the Patch?
The Patch is the story of Fort McMurray and the oilsands in northern Alberta, the world's second largest proven reserve of oil. But this is no conventional story about the oil business. Rather, it is a portrait of the lifecycle of the Patch, showing just how deeply it continues to impact the lives of everyone around the world.
In its heyday, the oilsands represented an industrial triumph and the culmination of a century of innovation, experiment, engineering, policy, and finance. Fort McMurray was a boomtown, the centre of a new gold rush, and the oilsands were reshaping the global energy, political, and financial landscapes. But in 2008, a new narrative emerged. As financial markets collapsed and the cold, hard, scientific reality of the Patch's effect on the environment became clear, the region turned into a boogeyman and a lightning rod for the global movement combatting climate change. Suddenly, the streets of Fort McMurray were the front line of a high-stakes collision between two conflicting worldviews–one of industrial triumph and another of environmental stewardship–each backed by major players on the world stage.
The Patch is a narrative-driven account of this ongoing conflict. It follows a select group of key characters whose experiences in and with the oilsands overlap in concentric narrative arcs. Through this insightful combination of global perspective and on-the-ground action, The Patch will show how the reach of the oilsands extends to all of us. From Fort Mac to the Bakken shale country of North Dakota, from Houston to London, from Saudi Arabia to the shores of Brazil, the whole world is connected in this enterprise. And it demands that we ask the question: In order to both fuel the world and to save it, what do we do about the Patch?
The book begins with the description of the ducks. The ducks stuck in the tailing pond in the dark and sticky goo. That picture of oil covered ducks proved that one picture is worth a thousand words. "They came in one after the other, each chasing the next down onto the dark calm surface of the water. And one after another, they discovered a strange substance floating on the pond's surface, a thick dark goo the likes of which they had never encountered before. It was native to the region, but it belonged properly to the hidden depths of soil and sand deep beneath the boreal forest floor." In all the pond claimed over 1600 ducks and brought the patch to the attention of the public as the incident was the top national story in Canada for days.
On the one hand there are the ducks, the Cariboo, the land itself; and on the other hand the insatiable desire for oil and the numerous products it provides for the ever-growing population on this planet of human beings and automobiles, and the need for light and heat for this ever growing number of consumers. " The Patch in Alberta's boreal forest became the first major battleground between the economic necessity of oil production and the ecological necessity of reducing greenhouse gas emissions." - "Drill Baby Drill!" versus "Keep It in the Ground!"
Turner's book is an epic reflection on the tar sands and the effects on people, other animals, the forests, the land, politics, and people. Robert Bell of the Geological Survey of Canada conducted the first formal survey of the Athabasca country in the early 1880s, reporting that the bitumen deposits might be so vast as to one day warrant a pipeline to Hudson Bay.- - those deposits of bitumen of northern Alberta trace their origins to the Early Cretaceous period, more than 120 million years ago, when an extensive river system ran up the centre of the land mass that would later become North America.
So, it was known that there was a vast store of oil underground in Alberta's northern forests and all that was needed was a demand for the oil and a way of "harvesting" it. The book celebrates the engineering skills of those pioneers who developed a way of doing just that – "in the name of freedom and opportunity, progress and profit, they liberate oil from sand. And in doing so, they renew their belief in the essential truth of the blunt assertion on the banner that hung over the GCOS launch: "Man Develops His World.""
Eventually the Alberta bitumen (a heavy hydrocarbon mixture combined with Sulphur) "flowed down continent-wide pipelines and over long train tracks to gush into a global marketplace where the ambitious hubris of the province's energy superpower boast was affirmed by mounting revenues. But that's where it also confronted cold economic realities." Conflict with the sweet oil of Saudi Arabia, a changing market place, and a concerted effort by environmentalists all produce a giant public relations battle between the various interests.
This is a book that presents a balanced and fair picture of the struggle to fuel our automobiles and to continue existing in a world changing daily by the carbon products released into the atmosphere. Politics, religion, wealth, destruction – all are themes discussed and investigated.
Turner writes, "Climate change, again, is not a campaign. It won't be beaten. We won't "win." We will either change our daily lives and the industrial basis of our societies, or we won't, over years and decades. In mean little increments. Through fleeting elation and hard compromise. Or I'll be proven wrong, and change will come suddenly, and I will be delighted to have misjudged the situation so thoroughly."
© 2017 Bob Lane
Bob Lane is Professor Emeritus, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Vancouver Island Universtiy.