Canada Oil Sands Seen Threatening Millions of Birds

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Reuters

Canada Oil Sands Seen Threatening Millions of Birds

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A worker goes into Syncrude's expansion mine, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta May 24, 2006. A coalition of North American environmental groups says the development of Canada's oil sands region threatens to kill as many as 166 million birds over the next five decades and is calling for a moratorium on new projects in the region. (REUTERS/Todd Korol)

CALGARY, Alberta - A coalition of North American
environmental groups says the development of Canada's oil sands region
threatens to kill as many as 166 million birds over the next five
decades and is calling for a moratorium on new projects in the region.

The coalition's groups, which include the Natural Resources Defense
Council, the Boreal Songbirds Initiative and the Pembina Institute, say
petroleum-extraction projects in the oil-rich region of northern
Alberta are a threat to migratory birds and the boreal forest they rely
on.

Their study concluded that development of the oil sands, would be
fatal for 6 million to 166 million birds because of habitat loss,
shrinking wetlands, accumulation of toxins and other causes.

The solution, the groups say, is to halt new projects in the oil
sands and to clean up existing facilities. They are also calling for
strengthened regulations to protect Canada's vast boreal, or northern,
forest and for Alberta, whose government has backed oil sands
developments, to prove the resource can be exploited without serious
environmental harm.

"People need to take a hard look at whether this can be mitigated or
if tar sands development is just incompatible with conservation of bird
habitat," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a senior attorney with the
Natural Resources Defense Council.

The report estimates about half of North America's migratory birds
nest in the boreal forest and between 22 million and 170 million birds
breed in areas that could be subject to oil sands development.

The oil sands contain the biggest oil reserves outside the Middle
East but the crude is expensive and difficult to extract. Mining
projects strip large areas of land to access the oil-laden soils below
the surface.

While the report has not yet been made public, the Canadian
Association of Petroleum Producers, which represents the country's big
oil firms, said the oil sands industry complies with environmental
regulations and dismissed calls for a moratorium.

"We need a balanced conversation, supported like a stool with three
legs, environment, economy and energy," David Collyer, the
association's president, said in a statement. "Calls for a moratorium
that consider only one leg of the stool, in a vacuum, are not
constructive."

Developments in the region have been criticized for pumping large
amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, using too much water
and being harmful to wildlife.

Indeed, the death of about 500 ducks earlier this year after they
landed on a toxic tailings pond operated by Syncrude Canada Ltd, the
biggest oil sands producer, brought international attention to the
region.

The environmental groups' forecast is based on a big expansion of
oil production from the region. The oil sands currently produce more
than 1 million barrels a day, but the report is based on an eventual
output of 5 million barrels a day, in line with industry forecasts of
production in two decades or more.

Reporting by Scott Haggett; editing by Rob Wilson

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