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Alberta oilsands not a horror flick: enviro minister

Alberta's environment minister has invited James Cameron to a personal screening of the province's oilsands operations after the Hollywood director called them a "black eye" on Canada's image.
Avatar director James Cameron poses in the press room at the Golden Globe Awards in January after winning for best motion picture, drama. ((Kevin Winter/Getty Images))

Alberta's environment minister has invited James Cameron to a personal screening of the province's oilsands operations after the Hollywood director called them a "black eye" on Canada's image.

Environment Minister Rob Renner says the director of the blockbuster filmAvatar, whose plot can be read as a warning against environmental degradation and resource exploitation, will learn the oilsands aren't a horror flick so much as a work in progress.

"We would welcome an opportunity for him to come visit us, talk to our experts and see for himself," Renner said Wednesday.

"There are challenges associated with the development of any resource. I think what he needs to understand is the commitment we have to develop those resources in a responsible way."

Cameron — director of Tinseltown blockbusters Titanic, Aliens and The Terminator — told The Canadian Press earlier this week that while he doesn't know much about Alberta's oilsands, he knows they are a "black eye" on Canada's image as an environmental leader.

Born in Kapuskasing, Ont., Cameron has been speaking out on environmental issues and on Tuesday labelled the oilsands a "wrong solution."

"For us to be doing greater and greater environmental damage, pursuing a dead-end paradigm, which is fossil fuels, instead of spending those billions ... on building wind turbines — those same areas are a great wind belt, and we could be generating ... wind energy out of the same place. Why aren't we doing that?" Cameron said.

Renner said wind turbines are one solution but can't be the only one.

"Wind turbines don't drive our transportation industry, and they don't work when the wind doesn't blow," he said.

Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner, seen in December 2009, has invited director James Cameron for a personal tour of the province's oilsands. ((CBC))

"Wind is certainly a critical and important component to put into that toolbox of energy, but there's still going to have to be a degree of dependence on fossil fuels, at least for the foreseeable future."

Avatar, which chronicles the fight over a precious resource on another planet, has drawn comparisons with Alberta from critics unhappy with sprawling resource development in the northern part of the province.

Renner said personally he is a big fan of Cameron and saw Avatar, which is set for release on DVD and Blu-ray on Thursday .

"It was enjoyable," he said.

Mining operations comprise a small percentage of production in the massive oilsands area around Fort McMurray. There are 91 active projects. Five involve mining; the rest recover oil through operations that resemble conventional rig drilling.

However, the 600 square kilometres of mines — where the ground must be stripped away to reach a mixture of oil, sand and water below — are mainly the ones giving Alberta the public relations black eye.

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