Shot primarily from a helicopter, filmmaker Peter Mettler’s “Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands” offers an unparalleled view of the world’s largest industrial, capital and energy project.
Canada’s tar sands are an oil reserve the size of England. Extracting the crude oil called bitumen from underneath unspoiled wilderness requires a massive industrialized effort with far-reaching impacts on the land, air, water, and climate.
It’s an extraordinary spectacle, whose scope can only be understood from far above. In a hypnotic flight of image and sound, one machine’s perspective upon the choreography of others, suggests a dehumanized world where petroleum’s power is supreme.
Located beneath 4.3 million hectares of boreal forest in Alberta, Canada, the tar sands are a mixture of sand, clay and a heavy crude oil called bitumen that is either mined in open pits or extracted from underground by injecting superheated water.
Getting the oil out of the tar sands uses roughly three barrels of water per barrel of oil, or as much water as a city of two million people. After use in tar sands processing, 90 per cent of this water is so contaminated with toxic chemicals that it must be stored in tailings ponds so huge that they can be seen from outer space.
Tar sands oil production releases five times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil production. Tar sands projects will release an estimated 40 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2007 and ensure that Canada will continue to be one of the worst greenhouse gas emitters per capita in the world.