The people living in the shadow are hoping low gas prices will slow development in their area.
Current production is more than double what it was in 2000. Current rates are expected to triple by 2020, as more and more land is given over to mining and underground (in-situ) extraction of bituminous sand to feed the world’s growing demand for oil.
The wildlife is becoming scarce and the fish have tumors and deformations.
Waste water from the process is re-used many times, but it contains such high concentrations of naturally occurring elements like arsenic and mercury that it must be stored in vast, man-made lakes surrounded by earthen dykes, known as tailings ponds.
Of course the industry says none of the pollutants ever get in the water even though higher levels than normal have been confirmed downstream.
Once in the water, the contaminants – which also include napthenic acids and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – enter the food chain. Some of the most popular fish have so much mercury in them that they should not be eaten, Dr Timoney cautions
There is an increase in cancer:
The catalyst for the research was the number of deaths in the community from cancer, and in particular from a rare type of cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, or bile duct cancer.
The incidence rate of bile duct cancer is usually about one in 100,000. Locals say they know of at least five or six cases in a population of about 1,000.
George Whiteknife’s partner, Valerie, lost her brother-in-law to cancer. Her nephew Grant also died of cancer, just days after his 28th birthday.
“Cancer is so common here, more than half the people who die seem to die of cancer,” says John Rigney, who works for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Fort Chipewyan.