Le bitume de la Terre

EDMONTON – Une discussion posée sur l’environnement est aujourd’hui à peu près aussi envisageable qu’un échange de vues raisonné sur la sorcellerie dans le Massachusetts colonial. Prenons par exemple le débat hyperbolique sur le pipeline Keystone XL, qui servirait à transporter des hydrocarbures depuis les gisements de sables bitumineux de l’Athabasca de la province de l’Alberta dans le nord-est du Canada, aux raffineries de l’État du Texas, au bord du Golfe du Mexique.

Le gouvernement de l’Alberta – et les compagnies pétrolières qui l’influencent – tentent d’imposer la formulation « sables pétrolifères » à la place de sables bitumeux, pensant que ces termes pourraient d’une manière ou d’une autre réduire  les critiques au silence. Les écologistes opposés au pipeline, avec la même subtilité, parlent de « pétrole sale ». Les spectateurs se demandent de manière compréhensible ce qui est pire – la présentation maladroite d’une nouvelle image de marque ou le jeu de mots maladroit.

Aucune de ces deux maladresses n’est entièrement trompeuse. Les gisements de sables bitumeux recèlent des centaines de kilomètres carré de bitume, une substance visqueuse et corrosive proche du pétrole brut. Le bitume imprègne les terres en surface et lorsqu’il est recouvert d’une fine couche de compost et de sédiments, il se trouve à faible profondeur. Si l’on saisit une poignée de terre au bord d’une rivière où affleure du bitume, la main sera couverte d’une pellicule plus proche de l’huile que du goudron, et cette terre huileuse est aussi sablonneuse.

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