Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 2, 2009
Bouchard says 'no' to unrestrained expansion of Athabasca tarsands
Economic gain should not obliterate the integrity of God's creation
THE PEMBINA INSTITUTE
St. Paul Bishop Luc Bouchard (upper right) says, "The present pace and scale of development in the Athabasca oilsands cannot be morally justified.
BY GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
ST. PAUL - The Athabasca oilsands are sacrificing the integrity of God's creation for the sake of economic gain, says Bishop Luc Bouchard in a pastoral letter.
"The proposed future development of the oilsands constitutes a serious moral problem," said Bouchard, the bishop of the northeastern Alberta Diocese of St. Paul, which includes Fort McMurray.
"The present pace and scale of development in the Athabasca oilsands cannot be morally justified."
The letter is titled, The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oilsands.
In it, the 59-year-old Scripture scholar and former seminary rector added his voice to that of environmental organizations opposing the rapid pace of oilsands development.
The letter was released Jan. 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
It is indeed a conversion that Bouchard seeks, not from those who work in Fort McMurray, but from "oil company executives in Calgary and Houston, government leaders in Edmonton and Ottawa, and the general public whose excessive consumerist lifestyle drives the demand for oil."
While Bouchard's letter is strongly worded in places, he takes a measured approach to listing the failings of oilsands development and outlining possible solutions.
He also applauds "the hard work and dedication" of the people of Fort McMurray and congratulates Suncor and Syncrude for excellent labour relations policies.
Nevertheless, he lists 10 actions that must be taken to protect the environment, foreign workers and First Nations treaty rights before future oilsands plants are approved.
The bishop also lists five areas of concern raised by oilsands development:
- Destruction of the boreal forest ecosystem.
- Potential damage to the Athabasca River watershed.
- The enormous production of greenhouse gases.
- Heavy consumption of natural gas in oilsands mining.
- The creation of toxic tailings ponds.
Despite a large amount of research, he says, "no fully effective means of neutralizing the toxicity of these tailings ponds has to this date been devised."
Oilsands production is creating "an almost unimaginably large amount of toxic material."
He expresses concern that, as with the Sydney, N.S., tar ponds, the public will end up footing a huge bill for reclaiming land mined in the oilsands and for cleaning up the tailings ponds.
Bouchard notes that government and industry do not lack a sincere desire to deal with the negative consequences of oilsands development.
"The moral problem lies in their racing ahead and aggressively expanding the oilsands industry despite the fact that serious environmental problems remain unsolved after more than 40 years of ongoing research."
Bouchard rooted his condemnation of rapid development of the oilsands in a "theological reflection on creation."
"A global Catholic moral consensus now exists: The environmental crisis is real and it requires a religious and moral response," he wrote.
He begins his letter with quotes on "the ecological crisis" from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI and then notes that bishops have written more than 40 individual pastoral letters on "the deteriorating quality of the world's air, water, climate and food."
The bishop describes the intrinsic value of creation. Abusing creation, he said, "constitutes a lack of faith, a type of despair or even a blasphemy."
In an interview, Bouchard said his letter is a local application of principles that have been outlined by the popes, other bishops and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"I have to put the Gospel into practice in my own area," he said. "If the Church should not be openly speaking about this then Benedict XVI is off track and John Paul II is off track."
He maintained that nothing in his pastoral letter is new, given the extensive writing about the oilsands over the last 40 years and the stance of the Church hierarchy.
"It is to our advantage to listen to what people have been saying for the last 40 years," he said, citing the input of The Pembina Institute and the Sierra Club.
He also noted that the new U.S. President Barack Obama has stated his opposition to importing dirty oil. So, it is to the oil companies' advantage to take greater responsibility for the environment.
Bouchard said the letter was announced on the feast of his diocese's patron saint, along with other initiatives - a diocesan pilgrimage to Greece, Turkey and Rome; a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the Second Vatican Council; and the launching of a diocesan chapter of the Knights of Columbus.
Letter to the Editor - 02/16/09