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Page added on September 29, 2007

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Canada: Big, bad oil in all its glory

Review of Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn’t Seem to Care) by William Marsden, Alfred A. Knopf Canada.

The rise of the loonie has been partially explained by the price of oil, which recently hit a record of almost US$84 a barrel. The Canadian economy has the world’s attention because Alberta’s oilsands contain an estimated 174 billion barrels of oil, the second-largest oil reserve tally after Saudi Arabia.
William Marsden’s book, Stupid to the Last Drop, paints a darker picture of the oilsands. Not only does Marsden argue that Alberta’s oil business poses significant environmental risks, he tries to portray the industry and its supporters as somewhat thick.

The book launches with an exotic and engaging tale. In the 1950s, Manley Natland, a paleontologist from the Richfield Oil Co. of California, came up with a plan to release the oil mixed within Alberta’s gritty sand using an underground nuclear blast . The force of the nine-kiloton explosion would blow a giant cavity in the underground rock, and the heat and the pressure from the blast would literally boil the oil out of the sand.

Richfield Oil thought the plan was a great idea. It even went so far as to spend $350,000 to buy an atomic bomb from the United States government for what the company came to call “Project Oil Sands.” A debate in Canada over nuclear testing in the early 1960s diverted Richfield Oil’s attention to Alaska. Project Oil Sands was shelved.

From the vantage point of the 21st century, the fact anyone would consider using nuclear weapons to mine oil seems absolutely harebrained, which obviously makes it the ideal launching pad for a book entitled Stupid to the Last Drop. Marsden’s book is an engaging and entertaining read. He mingles amusing anecdotes with some hefty science, something that’s not always easy to do.

Financial Post



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