Environmental activists may have counted plans for the Keystone XL being knocked down by the Senate as a major victory, but the fight’s not over yet. As open-pit oil sands mining continues in Canada, researchers from the University of Alberta have found that tar sands mining could cause even greater long term damage to the environment than previously thought as mining companies stand to massively and permanently deplete Canada’s natural peatlands.
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The research, led by David Schindler, seeks to debunk claims by the mining industry “that they will return the land we use… to a suitable landscape that is equal to or better than how we found it” and that it “will be replanted with the same trees and plants and formed into habitat for the same species.” Schindler et. al. deride these claims as “clearly greenwasing.”
Rather, the researchers found that 65% of the proposed mining land, totaling 29,500 ha, is comprised of peatlands, giant non-renewable bogs which act as natural carbon sinks. Tar sands mining in already approved areas would remove this carbon absorbing landscape, while releasing between 11 and 47 million metric tons of CO2 back into the atmosphere.
PhysOrg reports that the mining companies presently plan to replant the destroyed peatlands with dry upland forest, and in doing so “the area will lose the ability to sequester carbon in the future; this [the researchers] say will add up to about 5,700-7,200 mt of carbon each year, which they say should be looked at as a net gain of carbon emissions each year.” These emissions, the University of Alberta report notes, are in addition to the 22 billion metric tons of carbon that will be released once the oil is extracted, refined and sold.
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