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This article from The Guardian looks behind the oil boom in Alberta, Canada. They have the second largest proven oil reserves in the world due to the unique tar sand, a greasy  combination of oil and sand, expensive and difficult to extract, that have recently become viable. 

With the oil market as it is, there’s a boom in the local economy.

Extraction though, is coming at a human and environmental cost. For the small town that serves as the staging post for the oil companies, that impact looks to be truly devastating.

This article brings home the reality of the modern miracle, and at the same time highlights how dysfunctional human society can be when caught in moments of change and turmoil. In snapshots like this, brutality and opportunity, seem to have a lewd way of walking hand in hand.

As the Middle East has become more unstable, as Iraq has boiled into chaos, other, more unexpected places have flourished, and none more so than Fort McMurray.

Five hours’ drive north of Edmonton, in Alberta, it has always been a frontier town, and even before the first white explorers came fur-trapping, the Indians knew that this place sat on oil – they used it to waterproof their canoes.

The trouble has always been that it’s not conventional crude, easily liberated from the earth, but tar sands (also known as oil sands) – a mixture of sand, water and heavy crude which is much more difficult and expensive to extract. It can cost about Can$26 ($US27; £13) a barrel to do so – so when that was comparable to the price of oil, there was no point in trying; now that oil is close to breaking the $100-a-barrel barrier, there definitely is.

Aida Edemariam on the environmental impact of the tar sands of Alberta in Canada | Environment | The Guardian