Magazine article New Internationalist

A Tsingular Beauty

Magazine article New Internationalist

A Tsingular Beauty

Article excerpt

Madagascar is a biological treasure trove. According to Conservation International, the Indian Ocean island has 'an astounding eight plant families, five bird families, and five primate families that live nowhere else on Earth'. Eighty-five per cent of its species are unique to the island.

The island is less known for the vast tar sands deposits beneath two-thirds of its surface. Bitumen and heavy oil deposits in the arid Melaky region of northwestern Madagascar cover nearly 30,000 square kilometres and contain an estimated 25 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Major petroleum companies are itching to get their hands on the stuff. It could become the largest tar sands project outside Alberta, Canada.

The British-based company Madagascar Oil is already producing heav y oil at Tsimororo, about 500 kilometres northwest of the capital, using a water-intensive steam injection process.

The massive Bemolanga tar sands deposit, north of Tsimororo, is 60 per cent owned by French energy giant Total and 40 per cent owned by Madagascar Oil. Total suspended operations in 2011 when the price of oil dipped below production costs but the company still aims to be pumping tar sands crude by 2020.

Melaky is one of the poorest regions in Madagascar. The people are cattle herders and subsistence farmers - the tar sands lie directly beneath their grazing land. More than 100,000 people in villages above the deposits could have their water and land poisoned by mining wastes. There is just one river in the region, which would be the source for the water needed for tar sands extraction - an estimated 10 barrels of water for each barrel of oil, double that used in Canada.

'The risk is not just for the people who live along the river by the project site,' Melaky activist Jean-Pierre Ratsimbazafy told TarSandsWorld. 'It's also dangerous for livestock and people who live downstream. This river empties into the ocean, so it risks destroying the biodiversity in the ocean and the mangroves, and the people who live along the coast. …

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