Bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands continues to be processed in Sarnia, Ontario, and the surrounding townships. Imperial Oil, Nova Chemicals, Suncor and Shell all have refineries in Sarnia-Lambton’s well- known “Chemical Valley”—where BP and Enbridge operations can also be found. This petro-chemical industry complex surrounds the Aamjiwnaang First Nation reserve, and sits directly across the river from Port Huron, Michigan. Aamjiwnaang residents are researching the resulting health impacts on communities in the area. The dramatic reduction in male births, due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, is one of the most startling outcomes of local pollution. Other health impacts include cancers, respiratory problems and increased blood pressure.
Although tar sands refining is only one of many local pollution sources, the industry casts a significant shadow over the future of the area. As with natural gas from shale rock, bitumen from the tar sands is increasingly necessary to extend the life of fossil fuel and petro-chemical industries in Sarnia. Conventional oil and gas are becoming less affordable and available, yet are used to make rubber, plastics, and various chemical and fuel products in Chemical Valley.
Like many other midwestern cities, Sarnia’s existing oil and gas pipeline networks, and its other historical ties to petrochemical industries, may continue to draw fossil fuel companies to the region. Although Shell abandoned 2008 plans for a new tar sands refinery in the area amid protests, Suncor recently invested $1 billion for refinery upgrades which included further integration with their other tar sands operations.