Indigenous groups say the pollution of Big Oil threatens their very existence in the wilds of Canada

The emission of energy-hungry companies from Alberta's sand dams has made the oil and gas industry the largest source of greenhouse gases


The area around Jean L'Hommecourt's closet was once miles away from world noise. On long summer days, he would come with his mother to pick berries in the woods and hunt moose when the leaves turned yellow and the air was cold.

But over the past two decades, the cabinet has been surrounded by growing mines of Alberta tar tar sands, where oil companies have dug large open pits to extract the heavy type of bitumen. L'Hommecourt and its indigenous community of Fort McKay, about 35 miles north of Fort McMurray, watched as companies transformed their traditional sites into a 40-mile series, traversing subarctic forests and wetlands and waterways.

"It 's an attack on our area, our attack we are trying to get out of the country," L'Hommecourt said. Over the years, there have been more and more workers in the area, stopping him on the street and telling him that he could not hunt a moose or that he was entering illegally.

“‘ You are a criminal, ’” he tells them. "'I should not answer your questions — you answer my own.'”

Jean L'Hommecourt warms himself outside a cabinet he built near the town of Fort McKay First Nation, about an hour's drive north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

Jean L'Hommecourt warms himself outside a house built near Fort McKay First Nation, about an hour drive north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Michael Kodas

Oil and gas companies such as ExxonMobil and the Canadian giant Suncor have converted tar sands - also known as oil sands - into one of the world's largest industrial developments, covering a much larger area than New York City. They have built sewers that blow heavy metals into the groundwater, as well as sewage treatment plants, which cause the odor to travel for miles.

The environmental impact of the mines is so great and profound that L'Hommecourt and other indigenous peoples here - most of them from Dene and Cree First Nations - claim that the industry has challenged their existence, as it has provided jobs and income for Indigenous businesses. and communities. The people of the region have long suspected that the asphalt mines were poisoning the earth and everything in it.

The economic benefits of this development are enormous: Oil is Canada's largest exporter, and the mining and energy sector as a whole accounts for about a quarter of the Alberta's economy. Sands pump more than 3 million barrels of oil a day, helping to make Canada the fourth largest oil producer in the world and the largest crude oil producer in the United States. But the emissions of energy-hungry companies have also made the oil and gas sector a major source of greenhouse gases in Canada, according to a government report.

Large oil sand companies have pledged to reduce their pollution, saying they will rely heavily on government-sponsored programs to capture carbon. But oil companies and governments expect production to rise sharply by the 2030s. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new proposal to reduce gas emissions in the oil sector does not include any plan to reduce emissions.

Some lawyers and attorneys have referred to the asphalt sand as an outstanding example of environmental degradation which they call “ecocide.” They pressured the International Criminal Court to release ecocide as a crime, equivalent to genocide or war crimes. While the campaign for a new international law may drag on for years, without any guarantee of success, it has drawn attention to the failure of existing international laws to contain industrial development such as tar sands, which will pollute the earth for decades or centuries.