Of Canada, the Olympics and dirty oil

  • Article by: MICHAEL T. RICHTER
  • February 24, 2010 - 6:32 PM

Some of my proudest moments over the course of my hockey career came from the opportunity to represent my country in three Olympics. The Canadians were fierce rivals then, and they still are today.

Canada is known for its winters -- and for terrific hockey players, skiers and snowboarders. So it's fitting that the Winter Olympics are being held this year in Vancouver.

The country is also a paradise of rich natural resources kept that way by deep environmental awareness and responsible policies. But while Canada has immersed itself in the excitement of the Winter Games, the country is also pursuing an energy policy that could have a huge impact on winter sports by accelerating global climate change.

The Canadian province of Alberta is home to a form of oil that is considered the dirtiest on earth. It's called the oil sands, and each barrel creates three times the global-warming pollution of conventional oil. That's a staggering amount of carbon.

In fact, oil sands are now the fastest-growing source of global-warming pollution in Canada. To make matters worse, producing this dirty oil requires clearcutting giant swaths of ancient forest, sucking up water from rivers and leaving behind lakes of toxic waste so large they can be seen from space. The earth is gouged where the oil-soaked sand is dug and loaded onto trucks. After being sent through crushers, the sand is mixed with hot water and moved through slurry pipelines to a plant where the bitumen is extracted.

The oil industry is now considering spreading this dirty oil into the United States through a vast, sprawling network of pipelines and refineries. These pipelines would crisscross back yards and farmland in Minnesota, as well as in Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Illinois and Texas, jeopardizing our drinking water and rural communities.

As a hockey goalie who loves winter sports, it has been hard to watch events canceled in Vancouver because of warm weather and know that if we don't act now to fight global warming, we may see more and more of this in the Olympic Games of the future. Even skiers and snowboarders could be forced to compete indoors, in artificial climates, on man-made snow.

Harder still is to see the damage to our health, to the economy, to national security, to moral standing and to quality of life that climate disruption brings. These are not just environmental issues; our energy policies touch every aspect of our lives and affect every shade on the political spectrum.

We can't seriously combat global warming while getting fuel from the world's dirtiest source. If we allow Canada's oil sands project to creep across our border, it will lock our nation into dependence on yet another foreign source of oil, just as our local clean-energy industry is beginning to thrive.

Right now, we are poised to become a leader in the global clean-energy economy. By taking the steps to ensure that we are the leader of the next industrial revolution, we can reignite our economy, bolster national security and improve the health of our people.

One of the most important things we can do to demonstrate that leadership is to say no to Canada's oil sands. For now, the decision rests with the Obama administration. By denying permits for pipelines and refineries in the United States, President Obama can signal to the world that we are serious about fighting climate change and helping American clean-energy technologies thrive.

If he does, we just might be able to save the winter games we love -- and set a new course for the nation we cherish.

Michael T. Richter is a founding partner in Environmental Capital Partners. He is also the former goalie of the New York Rangers, a three-time Olympian and a member of the Sierra Club's National Advancement Council.

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