They say experience is the best teacher. Well, America, you could learn a lot from us Canadians about tar sands oil. That's because we've experienced its harm firsthand.
Canadians are currently being held captive by our federal government and the oil companies it favors over our nation's well being. Help us - and yourselves - by saying no to the TransCanada Corporation's Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
That proposed pipeline - bringing tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Texas refineries, for shipment to Asia - will do neither your country's nor our country's citizens any good.
How comforting is it to know, for example, that TransCanada's original Keystone pipeline - running from Alberta to Illinois and completed in 2010 - leaked 14 times in its first year-and-a-half of operation? One leak spewed 21,000 gallons when a valve failed at a pumping station. This from a company that promised maybe one small spill every seven years.
Also consider this: In June, a former materials engineer with TransCanada, Evan Vokes, told a Canadian Senate committee that the company "has a culture of non-compliance" - meaning that it values profits over obeying laws. Vokes was fired in 2012 after repeatedly questioning TransCanada's poor safety practices - violations backed up with written documentation to the Canadian government.
Unfortunately, many companies producing or transporting tar sands oil have even worse environmental records than TransCanada. Two independent researchers, Peter Lee and Kevin Timoney, painstakingly tracked environmental problems in Alberta's oil sands from 1996 to 2012. They uncovered 9,000 incidents - despite sketchy industry documentation that lacked basic information and contained errors. These incidents include 4,000 cases in which oil sands facilities broke a law or regulation - none of which were ever enforced by government officials.
Careless oil sands development has already contaminated Alberta's pristine lakes, with polluted water suspected in fish deformities. Birds have died upon landing in toxic tailing ponds that cover 925 million cubic meters (equivalent to 5.8 billion barrels of oil). Those ponds grew by 27.5 percent in the past four years, despite industry vows to curb toxic waste.
Pollution of our pristine environment has also spread to our federal government. Since taking power in 2006, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his oil-company-backed Conservative government have passed major legislation to destroy our nation's environment while favoring oil companies with loyalties to shareholders, not to citizens.
Last year, our government outraged scientists, citizens and even former Conservative cabinet ministers by passing a bill that included $160 million in environmental spending cuts. That bill rewrote the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Fisheries Act to no longer protect fish habitat but only protect economically viable fisheries. The law makes it easier to drill in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the world's largest estuary. It lifted environmental assessment requirements for offshore drilling and crippled the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy's ability to do assessments. It also repealed Canada's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and to curbing global warming.
This all leaves Canadians with fewer environmental safeguards from a government that's supposed to protect us.
Now Harper and the oil sands companies want to extend their dirty influence south of the border. Our experience prompts this advice: DON'T LET IT HAPPEN. The oil sands industry will pollute your landscape and your government, just as here in Canada.
TransCanada and Prime Minister Harper need a market to accomplish their dreams of global oil dominance and of remaking Canada into a powerful petro-state.
Many Canadians want no part of that dream of empire. We've worked hard to stop construction of an oil sands pipeline to the West Coast and are gearing up to stop TransCanada from building one to the east.
Join us and stop the Keystone XL pipeline from pushing further south through the United States. Instead let's pour our collective technological prowess into energy conservation and renewables.
It is for the good of our country, and yours - and for the good of the planet.
Jude Isabella is a science writer with a political science degree, based in Victoria, British Columbia.