Review of H2Oil

Albertans may experience a sense of déjà vu while watching H2Oil, Shannon Walsh’s documentary about our province’s tarsands development. Most of the material in the film has been well covered in the Calgary media, from the high incidents of cancer in Fort Chipewyan to the death of hundreds of ducks in a Syncrude tailings pond. Still, in covering familiar ground, the film provides a valuable refresher on just what’s happening in Alberta’s north.

As its name implies, H2Oil is primarily concerned with two things, oil and water, and the two are inextricably linked. Extracting the oil from the sands requires massive amounts of fresh water, and the toxic chemicals that are inevitable byproducts of the process are seeping back into the rivers that supply Fort Chip. According to locals like Dr. John O’Connor, those chemicals have led to a massive increase in the town’s cancer rates — a claim that goes against the studies commissioned by the province and by industry, but that is still quite compelling on a circumstantial level.

H2Oil is a very handsome documentary, mixing its talking heads with beautifully rendered animations and stunning aerial photography. News clips of Barack Obama, Stephen Harper and Ed Stelmach also help spice up the proceedings, with Stelmach in particular coming across as either clueless or uncaring. But the heart of the story isn’t the politicians, the statistics, the visuals or even the treatment of our resources for purely economic gain. It’s people like Dr. O’Connor and Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, who are fighting to be heard over the din of big business. There may not be anything new in this doc to convince those who see the tarsands as a blessing, but there’s plenty to rile up the ones who see them as a curse.

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