The party in Northern Alberta is over - (it wasn't much of a party to begin with - unless you like the smell of steaming bitumen and the sound of cannons) - and there must be some long, sad faces in the boardrooms of the tar sands industry and their investors.

2010 has not been kind to the tar sands so far and things are not looking up. Companies are slowing their developments, shareholders are getting restless, oil pipeline fights are erupting, US retailers are distancing themselves from being associated with dirty oil - and the bad news just keeps rolling on.

I'd like to imagine that each time one of these unfortunate headlines appeared over the last few weeks somewhere in Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach was slowly crushing whatever happened to be in his hand at the time and knashing his teeth.

Here is the year so far condensed into the 'good' and the 'bad'.

Bad news first:


Even before 2010 got started - the Copenhagen Climate Summit in late December put Canada and the tar sands of Northern Alberta in a not-so-flattering spotlight. Perhaps all the negative media coverage can best be summed up in this Guardian headline: "Canada's image lies in tatters. It is to climate what Japan is to whaling".

To kick off 2010 - in mid January Shell faced a revolt amongst its shareholders who demanded a review of its involvement in the tar sands - and the next week Shell announced it would slow development.

Then Schwarzenegger decided California didn't need high emissions tar sands oil and California enacted legislation aimed at slashing greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline and diesel sold in the state. Big bummer for oil companies involved in the tar sands because California is America's largest transportation market and Schwarzenegger doesn't scare easy.

Not to be outdone by Shell's shareholders, February began with a similar revolt amongst British Petroleum (BP) shareholders asking it not to commit $10bn to its tar sands developments.

Then US organic food store chain Whole Foods announced it would no longer buy fuel associated with dirty tar sands oil to be used in its transportation chain - and the potential of similar boycotts by larger US companies began to loom darkly on the horizon.

On top of all of this external bullying the motley crew of oil companies jostling around up there in Northern Alberta can't even manage a united front. They've been doing some high-profile bickering amongst themselves over pipelines and who owes who what.

Now the good news.


Not much. But:

The tar sands industry are perfectly within their rights to put up a sign reading the following: '2010: 48 days highly publicised duck death free!' Maybe it would be best to put the sign directly beside the Syncrude toxic tailings pond where those 1.606 ducks originally met their end. Just a suggestion.