Wabasca tar sands expansion truck route threatens residents with loss of cherished home
Geoff Loken, a software analyst from Colinton, northern Alberta, got a rude awakening this afternoon when he learned that his new home is slated to be torn down to make room for a truck bypass as part of rapid expansion of oil sands.
"I got a letter from the County of Athabasca telling me that I should come to a meeting about a proposed truck bypass," he said. "I went to the meeting, trying to figure out where my house was, and...their top pick for the plan would be directly through our house," he said with disbelief.
Even though Loken knew about the bypass plan for the last two years, he said it was always pitched as a public service plan to reduce noise and he had no idea it would go through his home.
"It's always been sold as a 'public good' thing," he said, adding that engineers had told him that the bypass was part of plans for a huge expansion of oil sands in the Wabasca Oil Fields.
"One of the things that came out in the consultation was that they were planning to have Wabasca double in size in three years (from 3,500 residents to 6,000), after the Athabasca Oil Sands start shipping 6 million barrels of oil, or whatever the number was. A big part of this was moving trucks across the Athabasca River, and as I understand it, pushing a new bridge across the Athabasca River for the same reason. They have a lot of truck traffic now that they need to move, because they're opening up new oil and gas."
Even though the county hasn't signed off on the plans for the truck route, Loken's upset. He and his partner Jocelyn Saskiw purchased a home in the area two years ago because of its gorgeous natural landscape. They just finished building a garage, planting an orchard and landscaping an expansive yard where deer and hummingbirds would come to visit.
"It's a really nice spot," he said. "We look over a valley, there's a little river, and that's part of why we moved up here."
On social media, people in the area who found out about the plan were furious.
"That is some epic bullsh*t," one commenter wrote.
"Time for a good old fashioned blockade," said another.
"I am going to talk to my dad, he's a right-wing libertarian and rural land rights is right up his alley."
Loken is much more subdued, saying the planners probably considered their options and chose the least disruptive route possible, which happened to be through his home. But he's baffled by the way the meeting was carried out. Although around 30 chairs were there, only four people showed up since the meeting was on a Monday at 1 p.m.
"As far as I could tell, the meeting was to gather people who might be pissed off about the project," he said. "People were concerned that it would be noisy and dangerous."
Loken hasn't been given any information about what the trucks would be carrying -- "oil and gas"-related product, he presumes, since it's going to the oil fields.
He expressed concern for other people who will be affected by the bypass but won't receive any compensation.
"If they're hitting my house, at least they're going to buy my house," he said. "Two doors down, they're going to put a bypass beside your house, but they're not going to pay you."
Colinton has a population of 224 and lies about 4 kilometers east of Highway 2 on Highway 663.
The Wabasca oil field stretches out over a surface of about 2000 kilometres of boreal forest, according to Oil Voice. According to a website called "Welcome to the Land of Opportunity", companies active in Wabasca are:
- Canadian Natural Resources
- Laricina Energy
- Shell Canada
- Husky Energy
- Paramount Hoole
On May 31, Reuters reported that a the Exxon Pegasus pipeine carrying "Wabsaca Canadian crude" spilled thousands of barrels of oil in Mayflower, Arkansa.
The Arkansas spill was the second incident that week where Canadian crude spilled in the United States. A few days before, a train carrying oil sands bitumen derailed in Minnesota, spilling 15,000 gallons of oil.
The Exxon spill took place in a subdivision.
Screenshot from Government of Alberta website. Loken says he hasn't been given much information beyond the sparse details on the "truck route study" of this site.