Nicholas Anastasi ’15 Sifts Through Policies on Oil Sands

Nicholas Anastasi '15
Nicholas Anastasi '15

Many Hamilton students consider themselves environmentally conscious and aware of the consequences of putting profits ahead of environmental conservation. Oil extraction, whether it is from shale deposits, sea floors or sands, can threaten natural habitats and introduce environmental pollutants. 

This summer, Nicholas Anastasi ’15 is researching government transparency and rhetoric surrounding oil sand development in Alberta, Canada. This region has large petroleum deposits trapped below the ground in a mixture of sand, clay and water.  These resources have become increasingly extracted over the decades due to technological advancements in detection and purification. With Associate Professor of Government Peter Cannavo, Anastasi is attempting to determine what environmental data currently exists on these sands, how it is collected and who has access to it.

Anastasi started his Levitt Summer Research Fellowship by examining the major oil sand development projects dating back to 1966.  He wants to gather a sufficient amount of background information to understand how the industry has grown over time.  To do this, he has studied records that document energy project growth, which include international contracts to export oil and land permit applications for extraction purposes.

The Liberal Party of Canada maintained governmental control until Stephen Harper, a conservative, was elected in 2006.  As the new prime minister, Harper is encouraging changes in environmental policy, data collection and government transparency. 

One of the most significant changes is that individual provincial governments, rather than third party agencies, have been made responsible for collecting environmental data such as water conditions, air quality and land reclamation activity. Anastasi said “this shift gets rid of the capitalist nature of data collection,” and allows government scientists to collect relevant data necessary for specific policy decisions. Outside agencies receiving funding from oil companies to perform any analysis can present conflicts of interests, a hazard this government action removes. Harper also wants the data to be more readily available to the public.

Anastasi became especially interested in the international aspect of sand oil corporations, in relation to environmental issues.  Many oil companies extracting petroleum in Alberta are stationed in the United States and China, according to Anastasi. These countries will have less incentive to protect the Boreal forest of Canada and other natural environments in Alberta, as it does not directly damage their own land. He wanted to “zero in on this relationship between government and industry,” to see how the Canadian government communicates and makes agreements with international agencies. 

Anastasi’s work will ultimately contribute to determining if the government is moving toward sustainable oil sand development and data transparency. The Canadian government currently states that it’s pursuing sustainable extraction methods, but minimal baseline data exists to support these claims, especially in areas where development started before sophisticated sampling and measuring tools existed.

Anastasi will bring the skills he develops during this research experience to an internship with the Environmental Law Institute during the fall semester.  Participating in Hamilton’s Washington D.C. Program, he will be working as a research intern at the think tank, reading reports and observing committee meetings, some of which will be with the same organizations that he is currently using to acquire data, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Anastasi said “I’m looking forward to working with the firm and becoming more comfortable with the thorough government records.”

Anastasi is a graduate of Conard High School (West Hartford, Conn.).

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