Under growing pressure from U.S. politicians and environmentalists to clean up its act, Canada’s tar sands industry is responding with a $25-million PR makeover.
Reporter Andrew Nikiforuk writes: “I don’t think I’ve ever driven a more hectic piece of blacktop. Most locals call it Hell’s Highway or the Highway of Death. On any given day thousands of logging trucks, SUVs, semitrailers, buses, and tanker trucks form a frantic parade to and from North America’s largest engineering project. Convoys of extrawide loads often block an entire lane of the highway with turbines, tires, or house-size coker ovens used in oil processing. In fact, Highway 63 ferries one of the highest tonnages per mile of any road in Canada.
“This congestion encourages a certain do-or-die recklessness. Impatient drivers not only pass on solid lines on hills but do so at speeds of 140 miles an hour. As a consequence, road accidents tend to be fatal or bloodily spectacular: Every month as many as four tar-sands workers get decapitated, skewered, or incinerated. It’s not unusual to pass an overturned semitrailer smoldering like a burned-out Humvee on a Baghdad street.”