Alberta Tar Sands To Be Turned Into New Lakes District

TurnerJMW Turner: Buttermere Lake/Public Domain

I am so proud to be a Canadian today, to know that my fellow environmentalists in the tar sands industry in Alberta have such glorious plans for Mordor. They plan to turn the area into a new Lakes District, like the one Turner paints in England. Nathan Vanderklippe of the Globe and Mail says it might be "a recreational haven complete with campgrounds, boating, fishing – even swimming." Who knows, maybe a new generation of artists like Turner or Canada's Group of Seven might be painting the scene a few decades from now. After all, the Lakes District in England wasn't always so beautiful and bucolic; when Daniel Defoe visited in 1724 he described it as "the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed over in England, or even Wales itself." And look what happened there in 200 years.

Alternatively, the new Alberta Lakes District might turn out to be " a landscape of ponds sullied by toxins and oil, a malingering presence left by an industrial experiment gone wrong."

Tom ThomsonThe West Wind; Tom Thomson/Public Domain

Just imagine a future Tom Thomson sitting by the side of a lake that used to be a giant toxic pit full of " hydrocarbons, salts and naphthenic acids sufficiently toxic that they cannot be released into the environment." Instead the tailings will be left at the bottom of the hole, capped with something non-permeable, and then filled with water, because Vanderklippe notes that "it’s less costly to fill a mine with water than dirt." It's all in a new report coming out this week from CEMA, The Cumulative Environmental Management Association, an industry group. Nobody knows if it will work; as one person told the Globe reporter,

This is a total crapshoot, in the sense that no one has ever done this before. But really, what are your options?

Lawren HarrisAfternoon Sun, Lake Superior, 1924 Lawren Harris/Public Domain

It isn't going to be a quick process either;

The lakes are a project that will engage several generations. Each stands to take a century of work to plan, mine out and establish into a functioning ecological feature. From the moment workers end mining and begin filling the lakes, it could take fully 40 years before governments begin certifying them as environmentally sustainable, the 436-page CEMA report estimates.

LismerSombre Isle of Pic, Lake Superior, 1927, Arthur Lismer/Public Domain

But the lakes of Canada have been an inspiration to artists for several generations, we can wait. I look forward to my grandchildren seeing visions of Lismer and Thomson and Harris by the shores of Lake Syncrude some day. More in the Globe and Mail

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