With mining oil from tar sands creating environmental concerns nationally, a group of local demonstrators joined the fray Monday when they staged a protest against PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, which were attending the national Food & Beverage Environmental Conference in Napa.
About 15 people armed with hand-painted signs and blue balloons stood on the sidewalk across from the Napa Valley Marriott on Monday afternoon, chanting anti-tar sand slogans through bullhorns aimed at conference attendees.
“We are happy to see good water stewardship by Pepsi, but we are worried because the fuels that they use in their commercial fleet vehicles wreak havoc on the natural habitat and the public’s health,” said Napa resident and Sierra Club member Jim Wilson, who helped organize the rally. “I don’t think PepsiCo wants to hand the next generation of Pepsi drinkers a planet that has been destroyed by their practices.”
Calls to PepsiCo for comment were not returned Monday. Coca-Cola represenatives could not be reached for comment.
Tar sands, also called oil sands, are Canadian fuel deposits made of clay, sand, water and bitumen — a heavy, black viscous oil. Unlike other fossil fuels, the bitumen in tar sands cannot be pumped from the ground in its natural state. Instead, the oil is mined in a more complex manner, which has made it a hot-button issue for environmentalists who claim the mining process damages surrounding lands.
Those who support tar sand oil mining argue that the use of tar sand oil reduces the country’s reliance on overseas fuel producers. They also contend that the effects on surrounding environments and populations are minimal and monitored regularly. Because elements used to extract the oil are not discharged directly into streams and rivers, those in favor of tar sand mining assert that it is safe.
But many environmentalists do not agree. Last year, Canadian environmental researcher Jane Kirk discovered a 7,300-square-mile area of land and water surrounding the tar sands in Alberta that has been contaminated by mercury, possibly from oil mining. Earlier this month, Albany County in New York halted plans for a tar sands oil processing plant until it received comprehensive results of a public health study on the effects of such work.
Wilson, a retired brewing quality manager for the Fairfield Anheuser-Busch brewery, and his wife, Leonore, have worked for some time to educate the public on what they say are the harmful effects of tar sands oil mining and usage. According to Wilson, if major fossil fuel consumers — such as PepsiCo and Coca-Cola — stop relying on tar sands oil, the need for the cheaper fuel source would disappear.
“Every day we see the effects of climate change on the news,” Wilson said Monday. “We’ve stated our concerns to many companies and we’ve had a good response from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Walgreens — all of which have agreed not to use tar sands oil in their fleet vehicles for deliveries and such. What we want to see is the same commitment from PepsiCo. We want to see them step up and make a commitment to our environment.”