Grandma vs. the Oil-Sands Mine

Eighty-five-year-old grandmothers aren’t typically subject to censorship, but Liz Moore is no ordinary grandma. After touring an oil-sands operation in Canada, Moore returned to her home in Colorado and began researching the mining process. Eventually, she spent $3,600 on a website that chronicles the destructive environmental impacts of oil-sands mining.

Liz Moore is appalled at oil sands destruction—and the reaction to her website.© Kevin Moloney

"I was appalled at what I saw—the devastation of the land," she says of her visit to a Syncrude mine in Fort McMurray, Alberta. "I came home and decided people in the U.S. needed to hear about this, because we"ll be buying more and more oil from Canada."

Soon legal threats arrived. The mining giant Syncrude Canada Ltd. and a branch of the Alberta government threatened legal action if Moore did not remove certain photos from the website, she says.

"It made me angry at a very deep level," Moore says. "I don’t like censorship, and if it’s done to me, I like it even less." Moore later learned that a release she signed before her tour gave the company the right to limit the use of her photos.

"Syncrude had a right to stop me," she says. "But it was still censorship."

The oil-sands mining company saw things differently. "We see this as an issue of copyright, accuracy and quality," a Syncrude spokesperson told the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper.

Oil sands, also referred to as tar sands, are a mixture of clay, sand, water and bitumen. The latter is a form of oil that does not flow at normal temperatures or pressures. Typically, oil sands are strip mined and then processed to produce extra-heavy crude oil.

Moore’s website offers a slide show about the destructiveness of the oil-sands mining process. The show includes photos she took during her trip to Fort Mc-Murray, but 17 of the site’s roughly 70 images have been re-moved and replaced with "censored" banners.

But help is on the way. Moore has been contacted by a Canadian nonprofit organization and individual photographers who have photos to replace the images that were censored.

Those responses, along with hundreds of "you go, girl"-type e-mails and invitations to return to Canada to give talks, have been heartwarming, Moore says.

"It’s why I keep it up," she adds.