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Oct 272011

From Green Right Now Reports

We know that many human activities take a heavy toll on the planet. Mining, oil refining, coal power generation and pesticide, plastic and livestock production, all scar the land and pollute waterways.

Photographers can’t stop these activities — coal and oil power our modern world — but they can open our eyes to the damage and without a word, offer a persuasive argument to find cleaner ways to power our cars and homes, grow food and create consumer goods.

Two photographers whose work is being showcased this month are showing us what tar sands mining looks like, through the lens of someone flying overhead or zooming in for a close-up. This type of mining, which involves scraping the earth for tar sands from which heavy crude oil is extracted, is claiming thousands of acres of Canadian forests. And it may soon be facilitated by a proposed transcontinental pipeline from the mining fields in Alberta to refineries in Texas, and on to the global market.

Sierra Club has partnered with photographer Garth Lenz to show how the tar sands extraction process savages the land and forfeits the pristine forests that protected elaborate ecosystems of wildlife, including many song birds that winter in Canada and nest in the United States. See the Sierra magazine slide show of Lenz’ work at their website.

Fort McMurray tar sands mining. (Photo: J Henry Fair)

The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, meanwhile, is featuring the work of J Henry Fair in a piece entitled Polluted America: Amazingly colourful aerial pictures that highlight damage to Earth wrought by industry. The photographs, from Fair’s exhibit series “Industrial Scars,” show colorful graphic images of chemical damage fanning out across waterways and or sprayed across the land.

As seen from the air, Fair’s take on the Canadian tar sands looks as if someone took a giant comb to the tarry landscape. The scale of the mining is shown by the contrast with the workers vehicles. (Fair’s exhibit is currently on display in Germany and heads to the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta in December.)

The tar sands pipeline, Known as Keystone XL, still needs final approval from the Obama Administation. Its critics oppose it on these counts:

  • Tar sands oil extraction releases three times the carbon pollution of regular oil drilling, making it a heavy contributor to climate change.
  • The bitumen oil that it will carry is more corrosive, can contain a variety of toxic metals like lead, cadmium and mercury. This toxicity makes it both more likely to leak, and more of an environmental threat when it does.
  • Should the 1,700 mile pipeline leak, as has another pipeline installed in 2010 by the same owner, TransCanada, it could harm farmland and the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to millions in the Midwest.

Advocates for the pipeline note that it would create construction jobs and bring oil to the U.S. from an ally. TransCanada, and the U.S. State Department, have said that leakage would be minimal. They’ve not explained why this pipeline would be expected to have a better record that TransCanada’s other major pipeline in the U.S., which has leaked more than a dozen times since its completion in 2010.