Petropolis

[A tailings pond is a toxic lake so dangerous that air cannon and scarecrows are used to deter wildlife. © Greenpeace / Eamon Mac Mahon]

One of my favorite films from this year’s TIFF has to be Peter Mettler’s Petrolis.  Mettler, who was the cinematographer for Edward Burtynsky’s Manufactured Landscapes, takes on a directorial role on Petropolis, which visually documents the Alberta Tar Sands.  Given the massive scale of the project, the infrastructures, and the process, Mettler had few choices but to document the project from an aerial perspective.

[Water taken from the local watershed ends up in toxic lakes called tailings ponds. © Greenpeace / Eamon Mac Mahon]
[A giant earth mover transports earth mined at an open pit for processing to separate the bitumen. © Greenpeace / Eamon Mac Mahon]
The Canadian Tar Sands are the largest supplier of oil to the United States and the largest GHG emitters in Canada.  Located in northern Alberta, the Tar Sands consume over 140,000 square kilometers (or an area the size of England).  While the scale and sheer devastation to the landscape is incomprehensible, currently only three percent of the project (or 420 sq. km) has been carried out.  Increasing oil prices is attracting more investors to the Tar Sands.  Currently there are close to 100 projects planned, which total approximately $100 billion.
[Open mine pits in the tar sands are often 50 metres deep. © Greenpeace / Eamon Mac Mahon]
[An unnatural landscape is characteristic of tar sands development like this tailings pond. © Greenpeace / Eamon Mac Mahon]
[Air emissions from the tar sands include 300 tonnes of sulphur a day.© Greenpeace / Eamon Mac Mahon]
Despite being a Greenpeace film, Mettler documents the metropolis of oil, or Petropolis, in a fairly neutral manner.  Sparse captions and voiceovers allow the power of the images to tell the story of the Tar Sands.  These images are simultaneously beautiful and horrifying, showing the large flowing deposits of toxic chemicals released from bitumen mining, spill out ponds, atmospheric disturbances and massive quantities of carbon dioxide released into the air (quoted in the film as exceeding that of all the cars in Canada).  For anyone interested in gaining a visual perspective on the project, I would urge you to check out the film.  Further, for a recent interview between Ariana Andrei and Peter Mettler, click here.
[The shape of the sulphur deposits – a by-product of tar sands processing – suggests a pyramid. © Greenpeace / Eamon Mac Mahon]
[A pipeline dumps toxic wastewater into a tailings pond. © Greenpeace / Eamon Mac Mahon]

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