The Fort McMurray fire has been raging for weeks, and the whole world is watching as evacuees are scattered across the country in evacuation shelters. Questions are being raised as to what this blaze means for Canada’s oil industry, while many others want to know more about the area. Fort mac is located in northeastern Alberta, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and near the Saskatchewan border. It was a key site during World War II as part of the oil-industry hub known as “the Golden Triangle,” where oil and gas pipelines were laid.
It boasts a dusty landscape, made up of rocky outcroppings and shafts dug by workers. Hence it is commonly referred to as “the drilling capital of Canada.” The local government has been accused of failing to fight forest fires in the area, while critics have pointed out that the heavy logging industry hampered efforts to extinguish blazes. The area just outside Fort McMurray was stripped bare in order to prepare it for industrial growth, reports indicate.
1. Cold War-era plans included a US nuclear holocaust.
In 1953, the U.S. government created a “Committee on Civil Defense” – known today as the “Civil Defense Administration.” This organization was tasked with preparing for a potential Soviet attack, at which time it was envisioned that one thousand civilians would die in the first five minutes of such an assault. The committee also believed that one hundred thousand people would die in five days and two million people across North America would be killed by nuclear weapons or fallout over the next year.
The United States secretly spent more than $1 billion on passive defense projects during this time, including underground military bases and bunkers for civilians and government leaders. A similar plan for Canada, the “Diefenbunker,” was an attempt to keep government agencies and important documents safe from a nuclear strike.
2. There is a lot of radiation in Fort Mac.
While the public is focused on the devastating wildfires engulfing Fort Mac, many are unaware that there are more than one hundred abandoned oil wells in the region. This is particularly troubling since oil companies commonly used radioactive materials during well drilling in Alberta since it was first popularized in 1947. In fact, hundreds of radioactive waste sites were reported by industry insiders as early as 1981 and an anonymous industry insider claimed to know of some 2,000 such sites across Canada as far back as 1982.
3. The Fort Mac area was stripped bare – but it’s not the first time.
Alberta’s boreal forest is an immense ecosystem consisting of more than 60 per cent of Canada’s forests and the largest remaining concentration of undisturbed land in the world. It is home to 5,000 species of plants and animals, more than 30 percent of all birds in North America, and thousands more insects. While this region has suffered massive devastation, it has been exposed to intensive industrial development before – particularly in the early 1900s.
At that time, a government-supported railroad was built in order to transport lumber out of the forest for use by European settlers during that era. Logging was so extensive that it stripped the land bare – creating the infamous “prairie fire” phenomenon in which fires burn out of control and consume the forest. Such a scenario could easily be repeated in Fort Mac.
4. Oil and gas exploration is cheap – but it’s dirty.
The “Golden Triangle” was heralded as an industrial center for Canada’s oil sands, but it has also long been known as a place of industrial pollution due to its proximity to huge oil deposits. The region contains about 30 billion barrels of recoverable oil sands and experienced a boom in business between 1975 to 1985, when more than 100 companies were active there. As a result of this activity, the region is notorious for having 60 percent of all toxic waste sites in the Canadian province of Alberta and high levels of pollution from oil and gas operations.
5. The rock formation itself is known as “The Ark.”
The surrounding area can be described as some sort of barren wasteland, but there are a few outcrops that are more than 300 million years old and contain fossilized remains. These rocks have been dubbed “The Ark,” because they resemble Noah’s Ark, an ark being used by God to save animals during the biblical story.
6. Everyone wants what’s underneath.
The oil sands in Fort Mac are also known as the “tar sands” because they are buried beneath tar-like layers of sand and clay. In fact, one industry insider claims that the area has been exploited for oil since prehistoric times, when native groups would dig up the material with tools such as fire and sticks or used fires to evaporate off the oil and use it for medicinal purposes.