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The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oil Sands

February 9th, 2009

Luc Bouchard, Bishop of St. Paul in Alberta, Canada has issued a strong statement calling the extraction of oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada morally wrong and saying it is causing widespread environmental destruction. He links this extraction to the problems of human consumption of resources and wasteful life styles.

The term “tar sands”, known in the US as oil sands, refers to bitumin, a thick oil that is mixed in with sand, clay, and water. Intensive energy is required to process the sands into crude oil. Tar Sands oil is the world’s most harmful type of oil for the atmosphere, emitting high volumes of greenhouse gases during development, contributing to global warming, as well as other pollutants.

Here are some extracts from the Bishop’s Pastoral Letter, with a link to the Letter in its entirety.:

“Dear faithful of the Diocese of St. Paul, the ecological crisis [...] is evident in many parts of Canada. Our wasteful consumerist lifestyle, combined with political and industrial short-sightedness and neglect, are damaging our air, land, and water. Personal, social, and political change will be necessary to meet this national challenge.”

“As the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Paul in north-eastern Alberta, it is my responsibility to provide moral advice and leadership on questions that affect the faithful who live in my diocese. It is therefore impossible for me to ignore the moral problem created by the proposed one hundred and fifty billion dollars oil sands developments in the Municipality of Wood Buffalo because these projects are in “my own backyard,” and have aroused strong ethical criticism. In this pastoral letter I will consider this extraordinary and controversial industrial development from a Catholic perspective. [...]”

The letter is in four parts:

The first section, “Theological Reflection on Creation,” presents the reasons why safeguarding the natural environment is a religious obligation.

The second section, “The Environmental Impact of Oil Sands Development,” summarizes the effects that oil sands development has on the air, land, and water in north-eastern Alberta.

The third section, “An Action Plan to Safeguard Creation,” draws religious and moral conclusions from the above analysis and recommends actions that must be considered, if the integrity of the environment is to be respected.

The fourth section, “Conclusion and Closing,” finishes with thanks and offers suggestions for a political and personal response to the environmental challenge of the oil sands.

Read the full letter here

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