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Review: H2Oil

H2Oil is a polemic against the excesses of the Tarsands developments in Northern Alberta. The Tarsands, responsible for the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions in North America produce synthetic oil in what is described as a two-stage process. First, the oil sand, or bitumen, is washed. After this is completed, the bitumen is heated (cracked) using natural gas. The film focuses on the negative effects of the first step.

A large amount of water is used to wash the bitumen. After being used for this, the water is contaminated, and it is not safe to release the water into the water system. The contaminated water is stored in tailings ponds; these ponds use earthen dams which are prone to leak. The leaking contaminated water contains high levels of heavy metals and other carcinogens, and is suspected to be causing high cancer rates among many First Nations people living along the Athabasca River watershed.

The Tarsands are the most environmentally damaging mega-project in the history of the human race. The film tells us as much, but its focus on the poisoned water issue, particularly in relation to two entrepreneurs who bottle spring water. This softens what should be the central message of the film. I learned after the screening that the film maker is actually friends with the water bottlers, and they were the inspiration for the film. Even if this were the case, they should have been left out. A film about the damages to society from industrial externalities shouldn't focus on members of another industry which also has negative external costs for society. It's hypocritical.

The subject matter is like an overripe plum, bursting with political corruption and lies. It's a shame that the film doesn't rise to the challenge of exposing the whole truth. Anyone interested in seeing a well-crafted documentary about the devastating effects of an engineering mega-project would be better off watching Manufactured Landscapes.

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