Garth Lenz

TOURING EXHIBIT: The True Cost of Oil

"The True Cost of Oil: Canda's Tar Sands and the Last Great Forest" is a travelling exhibit of the Alberta Tar Sands - or Oil Sands - and the boreal forest ecosystem which surrounds them. The exhibit compares and contrasts images of the industrial and natural landscape, highlighting visual themes and similarities in these opposing subjects and inviting a deeper understanding of each. It currently consists of 32 large archival pigment prints on bamboo, mounted to aluminum. The images range in size from 30"X45" to 40"X60" with about half in each category. The images are all offered as limited edition, signed, fine art prints.

The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the Tar Sands consumes far more water and energy than conventional oil and produces significantly more carbon.24
  
This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the Tar Sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is threatened by the proposal to build a 750 mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels a day of tar sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped to Asia through difficult to navigate waters where a relatively small B.C. Ferry ran aground and sunk in 2006.24
  
Even in the extreme cold of the northern winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, and liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.20
     
  
The boreal forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's boreal forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.20
  
Disguised by the beauty of a reflection, nearly a dozen of these toxic tailings ponds lie on either side of the Athabasca River. Individual ponds can range in size up to 8850 acres. 20
  
The Mackenzie Valley is the world’s third largest watershed basin. Only the Amazon and Mississippi are larger, but of these, only the Mackenzie is virtually entirely intact. Proposals to build the 800 mile Mackenzie Valley Pipeline to bring natural gas from the Beaufort Sea to the Tar Sands would open this remote region to a variety of potential industrial development. 20
     
  
Dubbed by most locals as Hell’s Highway or the Highway of Death, Highway 63 leads directly to the heart of the Alberta Tar Sands and through the center of one of Syncrude’s operations. During shift changes, choked full of exhausted oil workers driving at breakneck speed to get home further south, and contending with massive transport trucks and machinery, the highway is particularly dangerous. Virtually every week, the highway kills or maims another worker.20
  
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This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the boreal region as the Taku River flows west from British Columbia into Southeast Alaska near Juneau and to the coastal temperate rainforests of the Tongass. Shot near 2:00 AM during the almost perpetual light at solstice, these Aspens took on a softly glowing quality.20
     
  
  
The boreal forests and wetlands that surround the Tar Sands are the most carbon rich terrestrial ecosystem on the planet, holding almost twice as much carbon as tropical rainforests. Referred to by the tar sands industry as
  
At the edge of an 80 meter deep mine, a massive tar sands truck is dwarfed by the surrounding landscape. These 400 ton trucks are the world’s largest measuring 25 feet high, 47 ½ feet long, and 32 feet wide. The mines, machinery, and trucks of the Alberta Tar Sands were the inspiration for Avatar’s Edmonton born art director’s vision of the mining operation on Pandora. 20
     
  
Located just east of Fort McMurray Alberta, the Clearwater joins the Athabasca River as it winds its way north through the Tar Sands, accumulating toxic waste from the vast, unlined and leaching, tailings ponds which border it on either side. 24
  
The Tar Sands, with their vast lakes of steaming tailings ponds and, massive refineries, produce their own weather systems. The constantly changing weather conditions, with light filtered through skies filled with chemical pollution, leads to frequently fascinating and other worldly light conditions.24
  
At the border where the Boreal, or Taiga, meets the treeless Tundra, this valley is the wintering ground for the Porcupine Caribou Herd whose breeding and calving ground is the Arctic Nation Wildlife Refuge.24
     
  
Located immediately adjacent to a tar mine, forests and wetlands like this are key habitat for a variety of species. The Canadian boreal is the breeding ground and nursery for almost half of all bird species found in North America.20
  
Visible from outer space, the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds are the largest toxic impoundments on the planet.20
  
The forests along the north shore of Lake Superior represent the southern border of the boreal region in Ontario. The forests in this transitional zone are particularly beautiful in Autumn when they take on the more colorful characteristics of their predominantly deciduous neighbors of the south. It is estimated that only 10% of this southerly region of the Ontario's boreal forest remains as intact habitat.20
     
  
A section of boreal forest in Autumn near the indigenous community of Poplar River. The Natural Resource Defense Council and others are proposing Unesco World Heritage status for this region.20
  
The Alberta Tar Sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon, currently producing about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil, and produces almost twice as much carbon.20
  
In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with technologies to dry tailings. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings pond in the future and lessen this aspect of the Tar Sand’s impact.20
     
  
Located just east of Fort McMurray Alberta, the Clearwater joins the Athabasca River as it winds its way north through the Tar Sands, accumulating toxic waste from the vast, unlined and leaching, tailings ponds which border it on either side. 20
  
Even in the extreme cold of the northern Winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, and liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.20
  
The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it winds it way to join the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea.    This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the World, is the setting for the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.24
     
  
Tar Sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 metres high. Giant shovels dig the tar sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.24
  
Located just 70 miles downstream for the Alberta Tar Sands, it is threatened by toxins leaching from the tar ponds, as well as the approximately 250,000 olympic swimming pools of water annually  drawn from the Athabasca River by the Alberta Tar Sands.20
  
Trucks the size of a house, look like tiny toys as they rumble along massive roads 80 meters above a mine. To date, 4500 square kilometers have been directly impacted by the mines. Alberta Energy has reported that the landscape being industrialized by rapid tar sands development could easily accommodate one Florida, two New Brunswicks, four Vancouvers, and four Vancouver Islands.20
     
  
A tributary of the Slave River winds its way through the vast Athabasca Delta, the world’s largest freshwater delta. A
  
A relatively small section of a massive mine encroaches on the boreal forest. With the five fold proposed expansion of the tar sands, within as little as two decades an area the size of Florida will be industrialized.	24
  
Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta Tar Sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North Americas four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands.20
     
  
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