The oil giants, and the governments that supposedly regulate them, frequently claim that after mining the Alberta tar sands they will restore the area to its previous condition.
They are lying.
Much of the area they are despoiling is peatland, which cannot be restored. What’s more, digging up the peat releases massive amounts of CO2 that has not been included in previous calculations of the global warming impact of the world’s worst environmental crime.
A paper published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) examines the actual closure agreements between the oil companies and the Alberta government. The authors write:
Contrary to claims made in the media, peatland destroyed by open-pit mining will not be restored. Current plans dictate its replacement with upland forest and tailings storage lakes, amounting to the destruction of over 29,500 ha of peatland habitat. Landscape changes caused by currently approved mines will release between 11.4 and 47.3 million metric tons of stored carbon and will reduce carbon sequestration potential by 5,734–7,241 metric tons C/y. These losses have not previously been quantified, and should be included with the already high estimates of carbon emissions from oil sands mining and bitumen upgrading.”
This, bear in mind, is based on agreements. None of the tar sands mines has yet been restored at all. Past experience with “ethical oil” suggests that many of those agreements will be broken, and the government will do nothing about it.
“Claims by industry that they will ‘return the land we use – including reclaiming tailings ponds – to a sustainable landscape that is equal to or better than how we found it’ and that it “will be replanted with the same trees and plants and formed into habitat for the same species” are clearly greenwashing. The postmining landscape will support >65% less peatland. One consequence of this transformation is a dramatic loss of carbon storage and sequestration potential, the cost of which has not been factored into land-use decisions.”