The boreal becomes moonscape in the tar (oil) sands. The forest and muskeg are stripped away. The term for ‘the boreal’ in this industry is ‘overburden.’ A strange name as the obvious burden to the boreal is what humanity, in the name of industry, is doing to it. And it’s not just those on the front line, but all of us who invest in oil companies for our own profit or the profit of our institutions, and all of us with a heavy fossil fuel diet and lifestyle not yet able, enabled or resolved to choose moderation in our use or to support cleaner energy alternatives. From whatever vantage point, we impose a heavy burden on this living system – literally from a living system to no habitation on a stripped and depleted landscape.
We need to ask ourselves: Are we not the overburden?
Geological strata of bitumen deposits are gouged and scooped out for processing into a molasses-like consistency. This process requires millions of liters of river water every day (some is recycled from the chemical soup of the tailings ponds), enormous amounts of natural gas as fuel to heat the water to steam, and a mix of chemicals added to aid the separation of bitumen from sand. [We were told that each company has their own particular mix of chemicals.] Then this crude (mixed with Naphtha to make it lighter to transport) is piped or railed away for further processing into useable hydrocarbons – diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, etc. What remains are side products of sulfur (often stockpiled if it’s not cost-effective enough to sell) and coke (solid carbon waste not marketable enough to sell therefore spread back onto the land) … and a lunar-like landscape.
Industry attempts, little by little, to ‘reclaim’ the depleted land to a more natural state – even to introducing a small herd of bison onto the still-fenced-off reclaimed land. [This reclamation is postage stamp size compared to the vast despoiled areas being mined.] But I truly believe we (all of us) are being called to a much deeper reconciliation (reclamation) in our relationship to the natural world – not simply to patch up our visible messes with external signs of our goodwill, with their clearly marked boundaries of how much of it we are prepared to reveal.
Do we not need to reclaim the truth of our deep interconnectedness and interrelatedness with all of nature, and wonder at How did we ever think it was all just ‘crass matter,’ ‘stuff,’ ‘dirt,’ ‘object’ for our use, and then rationalize that it was therefore ok to do what we are doing?
One of my teachers in this regard was and still is Thomas Berry. He said, ‘We think we have understood everything. But we have not. We have used everything.” And, like a mantra, he would say: ‘If we don’t get that it’s all sacred, then we’re truly lost.’
I need time to grieve and to pray today.