Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 15, 2010
Lawyer masks morality of dead ducks with claim of 'showboating'
One has to wonder what it will take for Syncrude to face up to its responsibility for its massive hazardous waste tailings ponds near its Fort McMurray tarsands operations.
When government officials went to gather evidence for court proceedings against the company of more than 1,600 birds dying in Syncrude's tailings ponds two years ago, the first thing they had to do was gather photos and videos of the devastation. But now when that evidence is presented in court, Syncrude's lawyer, Robert White, accuses the government of "showboating."
The lawyer, it seems, believes the collection of evidence is a minor matter. It's an odd point of view for someone in the legal profession, unless of course his real purpose in making the comment is to divert attention away from Syncrude's responsibility.
Only three days earlier, St. Paul Bishop Luc Bouchard spoke at the Social Justice Institute in Edmonton. One of his key conclusions a year after issuing his pastoral letter on the tarsands: "Government and industry will do everything possible to treat the oilsands as a public relations issue rather than a moral issue."
Even Bouchard must have been surprised by the speed that his analysis was validated by the lawyer's comments.
Government and industry sing from the same hymnal on the tarsands. Oil industry newspaper ads extol the virtues of the tarsands; the premier jets off to gatherings of business and political leaders to say those horrible environmentalists and Church leaders have got it all wrong.
Bouchard's January 2009 pastoral letter called for a conversion by oil company executives and government leaders. They need to see that tarsands development has moral implications for which they are responsible. With Syncrude's lawyer claiming the real problem is with those who took photos of the tailings ponds devastation, rather than with the devastation itself, the conversion does not appear to have occurred.
The problem with the tailings ponds is not limited to the death of 1,600 ducks on one day in April. The ponds are a highly toxic mixture of substances for which there is, as yet, no way to remove the toxicity.
There is legitimate concern that at some point, there may be seepage from the massive ponds into the Athabasca River, thus defiling waterways all the way to the Beaufort Sea. A substantial leak into the river would be catastrophic. In any event, the tailings ponds will remain for 100 years or more, requiring constant supervision.
For Albertans this is - or ought to be - a moral issue. It goes to the heart of the province's prosperity and its willingness to care for future generations and for the earth. A lawyer's offhand attempt to avoid the moral nature of his company's stewardship does not speak well for the current state of ethical reflection.
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