Activism Tar sands in Alberta, Canada
Image Credit: Dru Oja Jay, Dominion CC BY 2.0

Published on March 20th, 2013 | by Don Lieber


Largest German Research Center Cuts Ties to Alberta Tar Sands

Germany’s largest research institution — one of the world’s most prestigious — has withdrawn from a multi-million dollar Canadian-funded “tar sands”
research project, citing the tar sands’ significant environmental concerns as posing a ”risk to our reputation”.

“It’s a clear signal that Canada’s energy and climate policy is not accepted by the international community, especially Germany,” said Professor Frank Messner, head of staff at the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres – the largest scientific organization in Germany.

Largest German Research Center Cuts Ties to Alberta Tar Sands

Tar sands in Alberta, Canada
Image Credit: Dru Oja Jay, Dominion CC BY 2.0

The Helmholtz Association is a union of 18 scientific-technical and biological-medical research centers; its official mission is “solving the grand challenges of science, society and industry”. Since its formation in 1995, three of its scientists have won the the Nobel Prize — one for medicine, one for physics, and one for peace.

The Helmholtz Association had been contracted to participate in the Helmholtz Alberta Initiative (HAI) — a Canadian government funded research project tasked with  upgrading bitumen and lignite coal to reduce energy consumption — and finding ways to deal with toxic overspill from the tar sands industry such as ‘tail ponds’ — toxic lakes that now cover up to 176 square kilometers of Alberta.

Tar sands “bitumen” is considered among the dirtiest, greenhouse-gas intensive fossil fuels on the planet. One highly-cited report from Stanford University states that the life-cycle emissions of fuel from tar sands are between 12-40% higher than conventional crude oil.

“As an environmental research centre we have an independent role as an honest broker and doing research in this constellation could have had reputational problems for us, especially after Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol,” said Messner.

This is the latest display of increasing international stigmatization of tar sands development. The European Union, according to media reports, is inching forward plans to assign fuel from the controversial tar sands a ‘high-polluting’ tag under its Fuel Quality Directive, while in the United States and Canada, a national week of action against Tar Sands Profiteers is now under way along with a growing student fossil-fuel divestment movement.

Authors note:

While the rest of the world begins to respond responsibly to the global scientific consensus on fossil fuels and climate  (ie, atmospheric chemistry demands that we dramatically reduce our use of fossil fuels), the United States Congress continues to defend its own reputation as global stalwarts of both ignorance and apathy; defying both science and responsible stewardship for future generations in its short-sighted support of the Keystone Pipeline — one of the largest “Tar Sands” projects in the world. This week, a bipartisan group of representatives introduced legislation – again — which would grant instant approval of the pipeline without the approval of President Obama.

The fear that the oil industry has of the growing protest movements and global stigmatization of tar sands development comes with a price tag, indeed, one of the authors of the bill, and a regular champion of the Keystone Pipeline, Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, has received over a quarter of a million dollars in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

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About the Author

Don Lieber has written extensively on international human rights, war and disarmament, and climate justice. His writings have have been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, DeSmog Blog, E-The Environmental Magazine, and others. He is a frequent contributor to PlanetSave. When not writing about climate change, he plays bass for the NYC-based band "Wifey".

  • Sherrie

    Cannot fathom how people can have this info and not be adamant and loud– and unrelenting in facilitating change. but then here we are, appropriately infuriated by the shabby disregard- and even we are at a loss for effecting serious change.

    An underlying, basic truth of society, applies here, does it not:

    En masse shows of support–such as rallies– seem to be the only thing that gets attention so far; these in turn can propel our representative public voices, e.g. politicians–the ones with proverbial guts–to speak out and give some momentum to change.

    Hari’s post is awesome,,begs the question, isn’t it time for the sci. community to take out an ad/s in, say the NY Times (again?) ?

  • Hari Prakash

    World on the verge of Destruction- Fury of Nature.

    The Scientific community has not gone into the basic rules of the nature due to which the tranquility of nature is disturbed. I am at pain to see that learned scientists are ignoring the nature and running after LPG& CNG which go directly upto 80Km much above ozone Layer. Ionosphere brings it down but it is trapped and fill the atmosphere due to thrust of vehicular exhaust from down below. The carbon dioxide has an affinity towards water and attracts the water born clouds from sea which on getting cold drop as incessant rain or heavy snowing.So it is not that nature is changing its pattern but we playing with its tranquility and inviting Tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, cyclones,incessant rain and snowing if the corrective measures are not taken the world would be destroyed much earlier than thought of.

  • Sherrie

    Regrettably and increasingly faced w/ the realization that we can’t afford the luxury of concentrating only on the unthinkable health effects..; something equally filthy is involved: the politics of this business. Great exemplar from this article:

    “”Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, has received over a quarter of a million dollars in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.”"
    As filthy as the industry and its products.

  • dorp

    > three of its scientists have won the the Nobel Peace Prize for science.

    Not correct. 3 Nobel prizes: 1 medicine; 1 physics; 1 peace.

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