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Ear to the Ground

German Scientists Cut Ties With Tar Sands

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Posted on Mar 20, 2013
sbamueller (CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the monstrous machines involved in breaking ground to extract petroleum deposits is seen at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada.

A prestigious German research center has dropped its involvement in a Canadian tar sands project for fear the association could damage its reputation.

The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research was performing ecological monitoring and cleanup research in cooperation with the University of Alberta’s project on oil sands. Getting at the petroleum locked within such sediment is highly destructive of local ecosystems, and growing international anger over the energy industry and Canada’s declining environmental record persuaded the Leipzig center’s board of directors to order a halt to the work.

“The Germans are very much against the oil sands and they are painting the oil sands as polluting the world,” said Lorne Babiuk, vice president of research at the University of Alberta. “With Canada pulling out of [the Kyoto agreement on reducing carbon emissions], that’s been a thorn in their side, and they say, ‘Why is Germany working with oil sands?’ ”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Globe and Mail:

In an interview with EurActiv, a Brussels-based policy publication, Frank Messner, Helmholtz Leipzig’s head of staff, was more blunt. Continued oil sands work “was seen as a risk for our reputation,” he said.

The Leipzig centre is one of four with the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres that had worked with the University of Alberta. The remaining three are also changing their research, abandoning oil sands inquiries and directing their studies – on topics such as mine reclamation and carbon capture and storage – to other industries, such as coal or copper mines, Mr. Babiuk said.

“Rather than having all the limelight on the oil sands, it’s going to be on sustainable energy and environment,” he said.

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