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Killing in the name of oil has been happening continuously in Canada, and will eventually cause a massive death toll among the wildlife. Since the beginning of operations, the tar sands oil drilling has been one of the most dangerous environmental issues to face the world. The environmental effects of the drilling have worldwide impacts. Not only does the drilling harm those closest to it, but its greenhouse gas emissions, as well as its effect on the waterways extend across the globe, and essentially affect the world’s population.
This paper will give a brief history of the tar sands, and will then continue to examine the negative effects that the tar sands have on different species of wildlife. This includes the loss of habitat for several different species of animals which are dependent on the Boreal Forest, where the drilling is primarily occurring. Also included are the effects the pollutants, which are given off from the processing, have on the wildlife.
The Tar Sands are areas of land that contain petroleum deposits, and Canada has an excessive amount of these oil sands. Due to the demands for fossil fuels, the business of extracting this oil is extremely profitable. In order to extract the petroleum and process it into usable fuel, several steps industrial steps must be taken. These extraction methods have a very negative impact on the environment; not only do they use three gallons of water for every gallon of oil produced, but they obtain this water from nearby sources, such as rivers. Along with the water required to make this oil, extracting the oil also requires approximately two tons of land to be dug up in order to produce a single barrel of this fuel. The amount of greenhouse gases produced during these processes is three times the amount of gas that is produced from normal oil. Factoring in the growing levels of sand drilling that has been taking place, it is estimated that the tar sands operations will produce more greenhouse gases this year than any year prior.
The negative impacts from the tar sands include: the loss of habitat land, pollutants released into the air and water, loss of water from nearby waterways, a decrease in wildlife populations, more tailings ponds, higher cancer rates among indigenous people, and oil spills through the distribution of these refined oils.
One of the animals most harmed by habitat loss is the Woodland Caribou, an animal that is already considered critically endangered. The destruction of their habitat has already caused their population to decrease by 50% in the past 10 years, with an expected 5-15% continued decrease per year. Out of the eighteen distinct Caribou herds living in Canada, nine are impacted, with three of them being critically impacted. Three herds are stable, and the effects on the six remaining herds are unknown. If the tar sands keep expanding their operations, the Woodland Caribou is expected to become extinct, and this would cause the Woodland Caribou to be the third species of caribou to disappear from the Earth. In an effort to counter this loss of the caribou population, Canada’s Fish and Wildlife Department have been killing hundreds of Gray Wolves yearly. They use poisoned bait traps, as well as gunning them down from helicopters in order to exterminate this natural predator of the caribou, allowing for more oil drilling. This attempt to poison wolves via laced bait results in even more unnecessary deaths among the wildlife. Eagles, dogs, and other animals also consume the poison bait, and die as a result. These continued efforts to reduce the Gray Wolf population have cost the government over one million dollars over the past several years.
However, if the Caribous’ habitat destruction isn’t addressed, and the tar sands keep expanding their operations, the reduction of wolf populations will have been in vain. Along with the obvious loss of wildlife, with the wolves being killed, there is also an unseen effect that comes from these killings. This threat is the negative impact that the removal of a species has on the habitat, and especially the food chain. Following the removal of wolves, it can be seen how this affects the Lynx, because of the change seen in the food chain. The Canadian Lynx is another mammal that is endangered, and lives in the Boreal Forest. They compete with coyotes for their favorite dish: the Snowshoe Hare. Coyotes are rivaled by wolves for food, and are even killed by them. As such, if there are fewer wolves, then there will be more coyotes, which means that less Lynxes will be able to find food. This results in the decrease in population of another already endangered species. As can be seen, disrupting the food chain of one species affects every living species in the entirety of the habitat.
Removing an animal from a habitat also results in the loss of benefits that this animal offered the ecosystem. Looking at the roles that Gray Wolves play in the ecosystem, we can see several negative impacts that their removal would cause. Similar to most predators, wolves are known to go after the weakest of the animals within a herd. This, which is known as survival of the fittest, results in herds becoming stronger as a whole. Through this elimination of weak animals, the spread of disease and disorders can also be prevented. An example of this can be seen through deer populations that are facing Chronic Wasting Syndrome, a highly contagious disease. As wolves eat those animals that are infected, the herd experiences an overall less exposure to this disease, resulting in a healthier deer population. Another benefit that wolves have on the ecosystem is their help in spreading seeds. Research has been done that has demonstrated that being hunted by wolves results in elk moving around to new areas of forest that they wouldn’t normally go to. This encourages the spread of seeds to underground areas, which then results in the growth of more habitat land for other animals in the ecosystem. Concerns over the tar sands operations have been expressed ever since the extraction processing began. From destroying the Boreal Forest, to polluting nearby environments, and causing several groups of indigenous people to become exposed to carcinogenic pollutants, the negative effects of the tar sands are ultimately not worth the money that they generate.
Among this long list of concerns regarding the drilling are the devastating effects that the extraction processes have on wildlife. This effect is shown in several ways, from causing the potential extinction of several species, to being responsible for the massive killings of local wolves and bears. Also impacted are the migrating birds that use this land for breeding ground.
This destruction of the Boreal habitat land is responsible for millions of animal deaths every year, and in order to stop these deaths, as well as preserve the environment, we must first put an end to the tar sand drilling, and find more sustainable and environmentally friendly sources of energy.
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