I found out that this oil is called the Tar Sands of Alberta. After researching this over the next several weeks, I found out that the extraction process starts with the cutting down the virgin boreal forest, next is the removal of the all of the top soil, and right beneath that is where a deep layer of tar lies. The discovery of the tar lead to massive investment into the area and the Canadian government enforcing the transplanting of the Native Indians from their homeland so that the heavy machinery can begin their work, and unfortunately this excavation lies potential threats of having heavy metal contamination from the tar to the surrounding waterways.
Listen, I was a country boy growing up, I wasn’t raised an environmentalist, but I spent almost my entire childhood out in the woods rather in front of TV and playing video games on end. This created space in me to become a lover and respecter of nature, and a rock hound. So it’s not surprising that something about this process just struck me as being wrong. I was ok with drilling below the surface for oil, and I still am, but this process was a whole new level of wrong.
I began imagining the land I called home being ripped out and away and being forced to move by the government so that private enterprise could move operations in so make shit tons of money off the only place I had ever called home, and what would be left afterwards be a desolate waste land. I learned that the size of this extraction would not just affect the small land area that my parents possessed, but when the project would be fully exhausted, the area would encompass the entire land masses of the states of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, half of Kentucky and half of Michigan! Imagine driving for 16 straight hours through a crater of our own creation. Imagine the breadth of this pit that was once teeming with life. Imagine having that road trip with your kids as you were traveling across the nation from the east coast to the Rockies, and finding this hell.
This pissed me off and triggered a shift in my consciousness and my mind became consumed by learning everything about sustainability. I had enjoyed making really good money, my weeks off to go travel; going snowboarding and rock climbing, but since that event, none of that mattered anymore. I wanted out, I was so pissed that something like this could happen; I wanted to part of a change, to change the outcome.
At about the same time, I started working in the refinery, my brother Frank started working in the solar industry for a company called Akeena Solar. We had joked around that maybe one day we would start our own solar company. At the time of making the comments, I never ever thought it would actually happen, but after this event, I thought to myself that this little pipe dream of ours may potentially be my way out. So, I started toying with the idea. I spent my weeks off from work traveling to California to get some OJT from Frank, I spend my nights learning everything I could about sustainability, solar, engineering, electricity, business, market conditions and strategies; Later, I got a certification to be solar installer, performed my first 2 solar installations on my parents houses; one off-grid on a tiny home (before they were called tiny homes), and the other, a standard grid tie. I decided that I would try and limit my carbon footprint in as many ways as possible. I bought a Fisckars reel mower so I wouldn’t have to mow with a gas powered mower, still using it today almost 7 years later, and then I bought an electric motorcycle and drove it to the refinery to work.
I was making really good money, going to a church and bible study weekly, happily married, and living my newfound values more and more everyday.. It would appear at a surface level that I have it all, but I couldn’t shake this inner conflict between my employer and these values. For over a year I prayed to God and sought out a path out. He provided me an interview at a start up bio-fuel refinery in Colorado who was seeking to expand operations, and this was the exact company I had been hoping that I could be employed by. On paper it was a natural fit for my job experience, my desires to be working in a sustainable company, and the location fit my outdoor interests. But 15 minutes into the day long interview, I knew it was a terrible fit. I flew back home, and asked God why? And what do you want me to do now?
It was this next set of epiphanies that drove me to actually do something significant.
**Since I have mentioned God, I would like to clarify something, I don't care if you call Him; Allah, Buddah, Christ Jesus, Krishna, Jahweh, the Voice, or the Universe. These are all various ways people have been trying to explain the same driving force that is guiding each and everyone of us and that gives us a deeper purpose and meaning to life. I choose to believe in Christianity with subtle influences of each of the other religious examples listed above. If you believe in no God or no ultimate truth, then I encourage you to continue to read the story as well, as it may still resonate with you. The science part is coming and it gets real sticky, per se. All are welcome, especially those who are open and are seeking.