Petro-landscapes and Political Imagination:
Interview with Steve Rowell (figures 9-24)

Fig. 9 Fig. 10 Fig. 11 Fig. 12 Fig. 13 Fig. 14 Fig. 15 Fig. 16 Fig. 17 Fig. 18 Fig. 19 Fig. 20 Fig. 21 Fig. 22 Fig. 23 Fig. 24
Figure 9: Enbridge owns many of the pipelines bringing tar sands oil to the USA from Canada. Just south of the border, in northern North Dakota, markers alert farmers, construction crews, and drivers, warning them to not dig and carry on, ignoring the infrastructure. If not for regulations, these markers wouldn’t exist and the pipelines would be completely covert. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 10: The industry protects its reputation and relations with the public through visitor centres and carefully curated museums such as the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 11: “Returned to Nature” claim by the company Syncrude Canada Ltd., which owns 400 square miles of open-pit mines, refineries, man camps, and toxic tailings lakes in the area. Resembling a nature preserve, Gateway Hill is a privately owned estate of roughly 100 square miles of evenly planted conifers, rectangular ponds, and grids of sod, sand, and muskeg. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 12: The abandoned historic ground zero of the ongoing tar sands experiment being conducted on the environment locally as well as globally. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 13: Part of the Athabasca Tribal Council, the Fort McKay First Nation is comprised of members of Cree, Métis, and Dene heritage. Beneath this land is the McMurray Basal Water Sands Aquifer which is at risk of contamination due to activities at the various oil sands operations on the reservation. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 14: Syncrude frozen tailings lakes foreground the mine and plant sites at the Athabasca Oil Sands, Alberta, Canada. The dramatic ricocheting sounds of gunshots heard at all hours of the day and night are, in fact, sensor-triggered propane cannons deterring birds from landing on the toxic slush. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 15: Syncrude is the world’s largest producer of synthetic crude oil from oil sands. They produce 350,000 barrels per day and have leases on 12 billion barrels worth of oil sands, which will keep them mining and producing for another 90-100 years at this capacity. Most of this oil is pumped across North America through thousands of miles of buried pipelines. Their corporate flag is often seen flying above the Canadian national flag. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 16: Reclamation billboard advertisement with tailings waste lake. Syncrude uses the word reclamation loosely. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 17: A man camp which houses thousands of mostly male employees of companies like Syncrude and Suncor. Miners are rotated out in regular shifts of weeks-on / weeks-off to allow them to return to family across Canada’s provinces. Like an offshore rig, tanker vessel, or orbiting space station, these remote habitats are entirely enclosed and self-sufficient with local power stations, waste treatment facilities, recreation, and dormitories. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 18: Picnic spot and interpretive signage explaining the surrounding altered surface of the land. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 19: Roadside attraction of decommissioned mining equipment such as this giant bucketwheel which uses carbide tipped incisors to gouge the muskeg peat and soil, exposing the oil-rich sands beneath. In the background is a dragline which is used to carry away extracted material. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 20: Autonomous, radar activated robo-hawk bird deterrents awaiting the thaw of a frozen waste filled tailings lake adjacent to Syncrude’s Mildred Lake tar sands plant. The retaining dam built to form this basin is one of the largest earth structures in the world. The water is so toxic that birds can die within minutes of exposure. Each dead bird costs the responsible company $120,000 Canadian dollars, if reported. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 21: Tar Sands diluted bitumen pipelines run beneath this clear swath of land, dividing this subdivision in suburban Edmonton, Alberta. The oil in these pipelines, owned by Enbridge Inc., flows at five miles per hour across the plains of North America, terminating at refineries in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 22: Barges carrying petcoke from bitumen oil refineries in the Midwest move down the confluence of the great Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to ports in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 23: Storage tanks of tar sands oil along the Marathon Pipeline site in Vernon, Illinois. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.
Figure 24: Koch Industries, Inc. KCBX petcoke terminal, South Chicago. This terminal is anything but. Petcoke, a waste product of the refining of crude oil and tar sands bitumen, is sent downstream by rail and barge and, eventually, by tanker to countries in Asia like China where it is burned in power plants. The material accretion of the North American fossil fuel industry may terminate in those furnaces, but the chemical toxins return home, in the form of global greenhouse gases and runaway climate change. Steve Rowell, Midstream at Twilight, production still, 2015-16.