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U.S. Diplomat Suggests "Greening" Alberta's Tar Sands Projects, But Admits Environmental Impact is "Shocking"

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A Canadian news website has obtained a memo between a top U.S. diplomat and the US State Department that urges the US government to support the "greening" of Alberta's oil sands, even though the environmental costs are "shocking."

The memo -- in which the diplomat is described as "internally conflicted" and "torn between the need for a large secure oil supply and its desire to control carbon emissions"--was written in February 2008 by Tom Huffaker, a lawyer who had been the U.S. consul for Alberta from 2006 to 2009.

According to The, where the story was originally published, Huffaker's missive was obtained under the American freedom of information law and marked "sensitive but unclassified," and "not for distribution outside USG [U.S. government] channels."

Here's what the diplomat wrote home:
"In our view, our goal should be to encourage, where we can, a process that is already making fitful progress, the 'greening' of the oil sands.
"Should we opt instead to support policies that damage the market for the oil sands and raise the cost of capital here, we should at least do so knowingly, well aware that, while this may seem to advance our environmental interests, it will harm our energy security."
Huffaker also offers a frank description of what he has witnessed and learned about the oil sands:
"Those of us, including many of our readers, who have seen the projects in Northern Alberta, have no doubt that the environmental costs are high. And while mining operations, with their vast, over-the-horizon scale are the most shocking at first viewing, even in situ projects with their dense drilling, massive above ground steam plumbing and upgrading facilities, have a far more visible footprint than conventional fields.
"Over time, the major players are committed to spend billions, perhaps tens of billions, of dollars on reclamation, but the land will never look like it did before. Paradoxically, when the soil is returned and replanted, as has been done on a limited scale, the land lacks the roughness of the native taiga forest and is unnaturally fertile."

Clearly Huffaker had some serious reservations about his own recommendations. Last year, however, he became vice president, policy and environment for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary. So we can assume he's not a Facebook fan of David Suzuki.
Speaking recently to the journalist who uncovered the memo, Huffaker cautioned against expectations that Obama's administration would handle the tar sands issue any differently. "There is more continuity than change" between Bush and Obama regarding Alberta oil, he said.

Green this?

Read the full story, with predictions that by 2015 "Canada will trail only Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Russia as an oil producer," here.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.