Birders usually concentrate on bringing birds closer so we can get a look, for example, with pishing, which I wrote about the other day.
But sometimes it’s important to keep birds away for their safety and protection. I was listening to CBC radio about the big crude oil spill from the Rainbow pipeline in the northern part of Alberta, near Peace River, on April 29 — the worst oil spill in the province since 1975. So far the leak has spilled spilled about 28,000 barrels, or 4.5 million liters, of crude oil. The oil ran down the pipeline right-of-way into a beaver pond and in to the Peace River watershed and wetlands. A beaver dam at the pond helped to contain the oil. One of the news reports I read said that seven beavers, 19 ducks, six migratory birds and two frogs have died so far as a result of the spill. It took provincial regulators five days to announce news about the spill to the public, and it was the second pipeline spill in Alberta that week. Some people (including my mother!) think it is suspicious that the news didn’t come out until after the election, since the Conservatives were hoping for a majority government, and Alberta always votes Conservative.
So the company, Plains Midstream Canada, is trying to keep ducks, geese, and other waterfowl away by using scarecrows and also recorded cries birds of prey. They have fenced off the site, and have 24-hour foot patrols to try to make sure animals stay away from the area until it is cleaned up.
According to this article, Plains Midstream Canada says it has spent $11 million so far in the clean up. Approximately 300 workers are cleaning the spill, and one-third of the oil has been removed. PMC is using 14 skimmers on small ponds around the muskeg surrounding the spill. The pipeline has been repaired but it is not back in use yet. PMC says it will “clean up the area and return it to the condition it was in before the spill, but some in the area question whether it can ever be totally repaired.”
Elizabeth May, who is Canada’s first elected Green Member of Parliament since our elections on May 2nd, is calling for an investigation of the oil spill: “There has been a violation of the federal fisheries act, not to mention the negligence of failing to notify the public for five days,” Ms. May said. She also said, “We have 45-year-old pipelines lines like this one running through some of the most ecologically sensitive parts of our country, and the industry wants to build even more. It’s time to take a step back and reassess. Accidents are too damaging to be acceptable in this industry.”
There is a very good blog post on oil spills in Alberta at Emma Pullman’s De Smog Blog, here.
The Vancouver Sun newspaper has a very good article, “A Year of Canadian oil pipeline ruptures”
To finish, I will just mention a great website, the Save Bio Gems project, from the Natural Resources Defense Council. The project has a wonderful page where you can read more about the Peace River area of Alberta,
All four major flyways in North America — the aerial migration routes traveled by billions of birds each year — converge in one spot in Canada’s boreal forest, the Peace-Athabasca Delta in northeastern Alberta. More than 1 million birds, including tundra swans, snow geese and countless ducks, stop to rest and gather strength in these undisturbed wetlands each autumn. For many waterfowl, this area is their only nesting ground.
U.S. demand for tar sands oil is causing Canada to ramp up tar sands oil extraction in the boreal forest just south of the Peace-Athabasca Delta, including sites upstream on the Athabasca River. Water extracted for tar sands mining could reduce flow into the delta, killing fish — a food source for birds — and disturbing habitat. Wastewater discharge could also contaminate the river, creating a toxic food web and leading to reproductive problems in wildlife. In 2008, 1,600 ducks died after landing in a tar sands waste pond.
Tar sands oil development also contributes to global warming, which is reducing ecologically important flooding in the delta. A number of developments are threatening the Peace-Athabasca Delta, including the Bennett Dam on the Peace River. Tar sands oil extraction exemplifies how our addiction to oil is causing loss of critical bird habitat in the delta and throughout Alberta’s boreal forests and wetlands.
The U.S. State Department has just issued a supplemental draft environmental impact assessment for a new trans-boundary pipeline that would bring tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, leading to additional mining and drilling for tar sands oil in the boreal forest. NRDC and our BioGems Defenders are fighting to stop the expansion of tar sands oil extraction and to protect bird habitat in the boreal forest.