Jennifer Grant/Pembina Institute
A mine in the Alberta oil sands of northern Canada. More than 100 scientists and other researchers have called for a halt to development there.

Leave Tar Sands Oil in Ground: 110 Scientists Invoke First Nation Treaty Rights


As news about the climate heats up, a rare alliance of more than 100 scientists—from economists to biologists to geophysicists—have written an open letter to the Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to stop development in the Alberta oil sands.

Among the 10 reasons they gave in an open letter released on June 10 was number six:

“Development and transport of oil sands is inconsistent with the title and rights of many Aboriginal Peoples of North America,” said the 110 scientists who signed what they termed a “consensus statement.” “Rapid expansion of the oil sands in Canada violates or puts at risk nation-to-nation agreements with aboriginal peoples. In Alberta, oil sands mining is contributing to the degradation and erosion of treaty and constitutionally protected rights by disrupting ecological landscapes critical to the survival of Aboriginal culture, activities, livelihoods, and lifeways. In the U.S., proposed infrastructure projects threaten to undermine Treaty agreements between the federal government and Native American tribes. In both countries, contamination of sacred lands and waters, disruption of cultural sites, lack of consultation, and long-term effects of climate change undermine sustainable social, ecological, and economic initiatives involving Aboriginal peoples across the continent and constitute violations of Native sovereignty.”

Of course, treaty relationships are just part of the picture. The main issue is the environmental damage that would ensue, and they are not the first scientists to say so. Earlier this year a study published in the journal Nature specified the oil sands as one of several areas whose deposits had to be left untouched to avoid climate catastrophe.

RELATED: Alberta Oil Sands Deposits Must Be Left in Ground to Avoid Catastrophic Warming: Study

In February, 90 scientists had gotten together with the same plea. Now the chorus has risen again, with even more voices.

“Based on evidence raised across our many disciplines, we offer a unified voice calling for a moratorium on new oil sands projects,” read the 110 researchers’ statement. “No new oil sands or related infrastructure projects should proceed unless consistent with an implemented plan to rapidly reduce carbon pollution, safeguard biodiversity, protect human health, and respect treaty rights.”

The tarry, bituminous crude extracted from Alberta in northern Canada are the would-be source of oil for the much-maligned Keystone XL pipeline, which the administration of President Barack Obama is still deciding on.

RELATED: Tribal Leaders Tell Obama to Reject Keystone XL Pipeline, Request U.S. Interior Meeting

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