Oilsands 'acceptably clean': U.S. senator

A U.S. senator is rejecting the 'dirty oil' tag pegged on Alberta's oilsands, saying that label should instead be applied to some oil sources in the Mideast.
Lindsey Graham is one of three U.S. senators in Alberta who toured the oilsands. ((Alex Brandon/Associated Press))
A U.S. senator is rejecting the 'dirty oil' tag pegged on Alberta's oilsands by some environmentalists, saying that label should instead be applied to some oil sources in the Mideast.

"That's one of the myths being perpetrated," said South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who along with two other senators, spent Friday visiting some of the oilsands operations in northern Alberta. "It's oil I feel very comfortable Americans consuming."

Graham said the oil is secure and comes from a reliable neighbour, adding that a lot of the money the U.S. gives Canada to buy its oil comes back to America in trade.

"Dirty oil and dangerous oil come from rogue regimes in the Mideast. The oil coming from Alberta in my view is not only acceptably clean, it is safe," Graham told CBC News. "Dirty to me would be oil that you buy from parts of the world where the people that sell it to you hate your guts and part of the money winds up in the hands of terrorists."

Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss (left), South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and North Carolina Democratic Senator Kay Hagan arrived at an Edmonton hotel Thursday night. ((CBC))
Environmentalists in the U.S. have been campaigning against Alberta's oilsands, launching ads this summer urging Americans to reconsider any vacation plans to the province. The Sierra Club has also launched a lawsuit against the U.S Defence Department for contracting for fuel from Canada's oilsands, claming it's a violation of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Graham said he and Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss and North Carolina Democratic Senator Kay Hagan got an aerial and inside view of the mining sites. He said from the air, the sites look like little blips surrounded by nature, but that once inside the operation looks huge.

"I'm seeing first-hand the place that provides America more oil than Saudi Arabia and Iran combined," Graham said. "I'm seeing reclaimed areas that used to be mined that looked pretty much like the natural landscape."

Senators will also visit Saskatchewan

Graham said he believes environmental concerns are being taken seriously but that he wants to hear both sides of the story.

"The main reason I'm here is to be able to say I've come to the oilsands. I've seen it myself. I've seen how small a footprint the mining is."

Chambliss said he's also impressed with the technology and the way the land is reclaimed once the oil in the Fort McMurray region is extracted.

He said he didn't talk to environmentalists or aboriginal people who live downstream from the oilsands but that officials were "open and honest" about environmental and health-related issues surrounding the massive operations.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, who acted as tour guide, said afterward that he was very pleased.

"The comments from the senators were very positive," Stelmach said. "It was a good learning experience, when you see for yourself, as opposed to picking it up in some reading material. And it was a day well spent."

The trio will meet Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall  in Saskatoon on Saturday.

With files from The Canadian Press