Thursday, September 23, 2010

Annual Bird Mortality in the Bitumen Tailings Ponds in Northeastern Alberta, Canada

On Tuesday September 7th the Globe and Mail published an article called: “Birds dying from oil sands byproduct 30 times more than estimated: study”. This article was reflecting on a new study by Kevin Timoney and Robert Ronconi that was published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology called: “Annual Bird Mortality in the Bitumen Tailings Ponds in Northeastern Alberta, Canada.” This study was about how birds are dying in Bitumen Tailings ponds at a much higher rate than was reported by the industry or by the government (Timoney and Ronconi 2010). When reading through the secondary source, then the primary source, there are many differences. It is interesting how the same information and results can be portrayed in such different ways. The main difference was that the primary report was substantially longer and more detailed than the secondary source.

In the primary source Timoney and Ronconi gave background information about the demand for energy, the tar sands and about birds. He then went on to describe the study area, the data collection and analysis, and the results. There were three types of data that they analyzed: the mortality rates found by surveying, the reported industry mortality rates, and the rates estimated by birds landing and coming in contact with oil. They then went on to explain the possible inconsistencies and uncertainties in the reports, as well as why there is a need for improved data (Timoney and Ronconi 2010). The report was then concluded by discussing various strategies that could be used to reduce bird morality rates, as well as why the government should be responsible for this problem: “Government should assume responsibility for development of systematic monitoring and research on tailings pond bird landing, oiling, and mortality rates” (Timoney and Ronconi 2010). The primary source was several pages long and included many references, charts and graphs. The secondary source, however, was only about one hundred and thirty words long. This Globe and Mail edition was the most basic summary of the report possible. It briefly described the numbers involved, and then explained the sustainable resources minister’s reaction to the report (The Globe and Mail 2010). This edition is barely long enough to even be entertaining.

In the primary source there was a lot of discussion about the limitations of the estimates, and the possible uncertainties that may have occurred: “There are four aspects of our estimates that influence their accuracy. First, no nocturnal observations of migrating or landing birds were made” (Timoney and Ronconi 2010). In the secondary source there was nothing about it. The Globe and Mail did not mention anything about these possible limitations, which could cause readers to be misinformed about the accuracy of this report. Also, one of the numbers mentioned in the article was difficult to find anywhere in the report, which further questions the accuracy of the article.

In addition, the writing style was much stronger in the primary source. There was a lot of scientific diction used which helped to reinforce the data and results that were being portrayed in the report. In the secondary source there was none of this diction, which contributed to the poor portrayal of the information.

(Timoney and Ronconi 2010)

Estimated annual bird mortality/km2/year in the Athabasca tar sands tailings ponds based on spot counts and systematic shoreline surveys”(Timoney and Ronconi 2010)

The claims made in the primary source were also much stronger than those made in the newspaper article. The report was very detailed and thoroughly explained the results of the surveys, which were then compared to the results produced by industry (Timoney and Ronconi 2010). There were also several charts included to further reinforce Timoney and Ronconi’s results, as well as a lot of background information about the tailings ponds, the birds and the methods of surveying, which helped to support the claims by providing a basic knowledge of the situation. The Globe and Mail article, on the other hand, had only basic statistics to reinforce its claims: “Industry reports that the average number of birds that die in oil sands tailings ponds is about 65” (The Globe and Mail 2010). These basic statistics cause the information and claims in the secondary source to seem weak and feeble compared to those in the primary source.

At least in the secondary source the author did not try to use the information from the report in a different context. In both the primary source and the secondary source the main focus was the difference between the data portrayed by industry and the data estimated by Timoney and Ronconi. It would have been easy for the Globe and Mail to focus more on the large mortality rates of birds than the actual focus in the primary source, since that would have probably received more sympathetic reactions from readers.

Overall, the secondary source was a fine, although very brief, overview of the primary source. However, there is barely enough information in it to satisfy anyone, and there is definitely not enough information in it to be useful as research. People reading this article may just get interested in it, but would probably have many questions at the end of it. A slightly longer article would have been better. The primary source was the opposite of this. It was long, detailed, and had a lot of interesting information in it. It also had very convincing and strong claims, which the secondary source does not. In addition, the primary source included a discussion of the limitations of the report, which was not included in the Globe and Mail article. The original report would be very helpful for anyone doing research as it contains a lot of good information as well as many statistics, charts and sources.

(The Globe and Mail 2010)

“Birds dying from oil sands byproduct 30 times more than estimated: study.” The Globe
and Mail. September 7th 2010. The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandm

Timoney, Kevin and Robert Ronconi. “Annual Bird Mortality in the Bitumen Tailings
Ponds in Northeastern Alberta, Canada.” The Wilson Journal of Ornithology.
September 2010. BioOne. University of Guelph.
0.1676/ 09-181.1.

David Tarascio Student ID: 0705039

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