Cameron trying to keep open mind about oilsands
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Tuesday, September 28, 2010 9:01PM EDT
Canadian-born filmmaker James Cameron toured Syncrude's oilsands facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta on Tuesday, trying to keep an open mind about an industry that he worries is destroying the environment.
Cameron began Tuesday morning by touring the oilsands area by helicopter. He was then joined by Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner for a tour of a reclaimed mine, which is now a wetland known as Bill's Lake.
"You're taking a very complex system, removing it and then recreating that complexity after the fact," Cameron said as the tour group walked through the marsh. "So it needs to be understood."
Cameron also watched how heat is used to extract bitumen from the sands.
"The executives are trying to show Cameron what can be done with the oil industry, trying to show him their environmental efforts," said CTV's Janet Dirks, who was part of the press corps taking part in the tour.
"He said he was quite amazed -- he was trying to be very careful with his words having once called the oilsands a ‘black eye' for Canada -- but he said he is quite amazed by the vastness of the operation and he's trying to keep an open mind," Dirks said.
Greg Stringham of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said the tour was meant to show the director all facets of Alberta's oil industry.
"I don't think we're trying to actually change anyone's stance," he said.
Renner said the Alberta government merely wants to "ensure that the public discussion (about the oilsands) has balance."
For his part, Cameron told reporters that he is "in sponge mode, finding out how this all works and getting my arms around it."
Later, the Oscar-winning director travelled to the community of Fort Chipewyan, where he listened to the concerns of those people living downstream from the oilsands, and how the industry has affected their health and the health of the water they fish.
"I want to hear what's on the mind of the people of this community," Cameron said after landing at the community's airstrip. "Find out what concerns them about health issues and fish and wildlife issues, any of the environmental impacts that are associated with the tarsands."
Locals have long complained of growing health problems, polluted water and deformed fish.
"We want to bring the attention to the Alberta government and the federal government about the responsibility for clean, safe drinking water that every human being has a right to," said Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
Cameron made headlines this year after saying Alberta's oilsands are a "black eye" to Canada's image. He said the government should be spending money on wind turbines instead of extracting crude oil.
Cameron has a meeting scheduled with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach on Wednesday in Edmonton.
"I want to hear what the oil company people say about what they're doing to mitigate the environmental impacts and to make sure it's safe and so on, and I want to hear from the government agencies about what they're doing to monitor this," Cameron said Monday night.
Stelmach has said that he hopes Cameron will tour some of the reclamation projects in the oilsands to get a better understanding of how companies are working to keep the environment a priority.
"My job is to advocate for Albertans and that's not to back away from any threat and that's a good sign of solid leadership and that's what I'm providing for the province," Stelmach said Tuesday between meetings in Quebec.
After their meeting, Cameron will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. local time, followed by Stelmach at 2:30 p.m.
Since the success of his environmentally tinged Avatar, Cameron has spoken out about the oil spill in the Gulf and travelled to Brazil to protest the construction of a hydro-electric dam threatening to displace thousands of people.
With reports from CTV Edmonton's Kevin Armstrong and CTV's Alberta Bureau Chief Janet Dirks