Doc digs into oil sands

Project for Global and Tele-Quebec raises questions about the environmental impact of the oil sands

MONTREAL — The producers of an upcoming doc on the Alberta oil sands, H2Oil, hope to get Canadians talking about one of the world’s largest industrial projects and its potentially devastating environmental impact.

‘I can’t believe that the oil sands wasn’t a major issue in the federal election,’ writer/director Shannon Walsh told Playback Daily during a break in editing the $532,000 doc, which will air on Global and Télé-Québec, likely sometime next winter.

‘We are mortgaging our environmental future with this project and the government isn’t doing anything,’ says Walsh, who began the doc in 2006 shortly after receiving a call from friends who have a spring water bottling company near the oil sands.

‘They were worried because their water levels were down,’ recalls Walsh. ‘They were sure it had something to do with the oil sands.’ Two barrels of water are required to extract one barrel of oil; much of which comes from the nearby Athabasca river. Walsh says she quickly became determined to ‘unravel what’s going on in the oil sands.’

It’s estimated that major oil companies such as Shell, Chevron, Exxon, Total, Occidental and Imperial have invested nearly $100 billion in Alberta’s 3,000-square-kilometer ‘bitumen belt.’ The controversial project has transformed the once-pristine wilderness around Fort McMurray and the Athabasca River into a landscape of enormous black mines — so large they can now be seen from space — and toxic waste ponds.

The Canadian Energy Research Institute has suggested that between 2000 and 2020 the oil sands could contribute some $51 billion to the federal government, $41 billion to the Alberta government and $11 billion to other provinces.

Produced by Sergeo Kirby and Sarah Spring of Loaded Pictures, one of H2Oil‘s principal subjects is Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam, who wants the government to stop companies from extracting oil from the sands until thorough environmental impact studies have been conducted. Adam, who has threatened court action if the oil sands projects proceed, believes leakage is polluting the Athabasca.

Spring is thrilled that Global is broadcasting the point-of-view documentary, which was funded by the network, SODEC, the Canada Council, the CTF and Télé-Québec. ‘It’s wonderful they picked it up. We want to reach as wide an audience as possible.’