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Oil Sands Development Threatens Millions of Birds

December 3, 2008

Millions of birds could be in danger over the next five decades due to the development of Canada’s oil sands region, North American environmental groups announced on Wednesday.

Development in the oil sands region could result in the deaths of 6 million to 166 million birds over the next 50 years due to petroleum extraction projects that lead to habitat loss, shrinking wetlands, accumulation of toxin and other causes, the environmental groups said.

The groups behind the new report include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Boreal Songbirds Initiative and the Pembina Institute.

About half of all of North America’s migratory birds nest in the boreal forest. Also, as many as 170 million birds breed in areas that could be subject to oil sands development, according to the report.

Environmental groups are calling for a stop to new projects in the oil sands and to clean up existing facilities in addition to strengthened regulations to protect Canada’s vast boreal, or northern, forest and for Alberta, whose government has backed oil sands developments.

“People need to take a hard look at whether this can be mitigated or if tar sands development is just incompatible with conservation of bird habitat,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which represents the country’s big oil firms, said the oil sands industry complies with environmental regulations and dismissed calls for a moratorium.

“We need a balanced conversation, supported like a stool with three legs, environment, economy and energy,” David Collyer, the association’s president, said in a statement. “Calls for a moratorium that consider only one leg of the stool, in a vacuum, are not constructive.”

The environmental groups’ forecast is based on a big expansion of oil production from the region. The oil sands currently produce more than 1 million barrels a day, but the report is based on an eventual output of 5 million barrels a day, in line with industry forecasts of production in two decades or more.

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