Despite Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach’s best efforts, the Alberta oil sands still have a terrible reputation when it comes to their environmental impact. A compelling, if not particularly revealing, cover story by National Geographic argues the province is sacrificing its long-term environmental viability for short-term economic benefits. From a purely financial perspective, the oil sands are a no-brainer. Using clean-burning natural gas to pump oil out of the ground may make the process 15 to 40 per cent “dirtier” than conventional oil extraction, but a barrel of crude “contains about five times more energy than the natural gas used to make it, and in much more valuable liquid form.” However, from an environmental perspective, the industry causes such widespread damage to local forests and rivers that the money it generates may not be worth it. A poll taken in 2007 found that 71 per cent of the province’s residents would support a moratorium on new oil sands projects. But Stelmach, to the National Geographic‘s dismay, has already dismissed such an option, preferring to let the “free market” solve the dilemma.