Documentary: World's 4th Largest Tar Sands Deposit Found on Biodiverse Madagascar

Screen capture from Friends of the Earth Tar Sands documentary

A new film on tar sands extraction going global premiered at European Parliament in Strasbourg, France last week.

The documentary 'Tar Sands – Ends of the Earth' is by Friends of the Earth Europe and features Holly Rakotondralambo, an environmentalist from Madagascar as she journeys to northern Alberta to see the environmental devastation caused by the tar sands industry. Madagascar is home to the fourth largest tar sands bitumen deposit in the world.

It was very sad to see the tar sands (in Canada) and I'm worried that something like this could happen in Madagascar. Canada is a developed country. In Madagascar we don't have the capacity to regulate the extractive industries,” says Rakotondralambo.

Rakotondralambo learns about the tar sands from First Nations leaders and activists in Alberta and European politicians in Brussels before returning to the region of Bemolanga in Madagascar. French oil company Total Oil owns the majority of the tar sands projects in the region.

Bemolanga is a drought region of Madagascar. Communities are dependent on one river for all their water needs. The locals are either cow herders or subsistence farmers. The large volumes of water necessary to process bitumen could threaten the communities of Bemolanga's existence.

At community meetings in Bemolanga, Rakotondralambo presents pictures of tar sands operations in Alberta. Community members look on with disbelief at images of moon-like landscapes left by tar sands open pit mines and tailings ponds the size of large lakes.

Rakotondralambo explains in the film it is important for the communities of Bemolanga to know the facts about the tar sands because it will be like “going to war” with the Madagascar government supported by international oil companies to stop the tar sands projects. She will also translate the film into Malagasy for local communities to view.

They have no voice or education to oppose or understand. They are so poor that if you give them just a little money they will accept anything without any idea about what the impacts will be,” Rakotondralambo said about Bemolanga's communities in a 2011 interview with The Ecologist.

Following the screening in Strasbourg, Members of European Parliament (MEP) vowed to ensure the EU Fuel Quality Directive will discourage the selling of bitumen in the EU. Liberal democrat MEP Fiona Hall said the film showed “why action now is so important” and pledged to keep fighting for a higher greenhouse gas (GHG) value of oil derived from bitumen in the FQD.

The Canadian government has lobbied intensely against the EU setting a GHG value for oil from tar sands bitumen that is higher than the value set for conventional oil in the FQD. Canada fears this would set a precedent that bitumen is 'dirty oil' and other countries will follow suit.

“We as MEPs have been fighting to have the tar sands properly labelled. We label other things as they are, such as food. They should be labelled just as they are,” says social democrat MEP Linda McAvan.

Total Oil temporarily shelved its Bemolanga tar sands projects in 2010 following political and economic instability in the aftermath of Madagascar's 2009 coup. Madagascar Oil's tar sands projects in the neighbouring Tsimiroro region are underway.

There is also speculation Total Oil is waiting on the outcome of the FQD before it proceeds with further tar sands extraction in Madagascar.

The final result of the Fuel Quality Directive may be a stop or a go ahead for the tar sands,” says director of Friends of the Earth Europe Magda Stoczkiewicz in the film.