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Marsden, William 1953-

Marsden, William 1953-

PERSONAL:

Born 1953.

CAREER:

Gazette, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, senior investigative reporter.

MEMBER:

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

WRITINGS:

(With Julian Sher) The Road to Hell: How the Biker Gangs Are Conquering Canada, Knopf (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

(With Julian Sher) Angels of Death: Inside the Biker Gangs' Crime Empire, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2006.

Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (and Doesn't Seem to Care), Knopf (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

Montreal Gazette reporter William Marsden is the coauthor of two books about the Hell's Angels motorcycle club, The Road to Hell: How the Biker Gangs Are Conquering Canada and Angels of Death: Inside the Biker Gangs' Crime Empire. Both books discuss the ways in which the gang members run an international crime cartel, smuggle drugs and weapons, and distribute violence. The putative head of the gang, Ralph "Sunny" Barker, explained Mike Tribby in Booklist, has successfully launched a public relations campaign that makes the Angels appear to be nothing more than a "bunch of hard-drinking mischief makers guilty only of loving freedom and hedonism too much." In reality, however, according to Marsden and his coauthor, Julian Sher, the Angels have always been prone to violence, dating at least to the infamous Altamont Free Concert in December 1969 at which the Rolling Stones asked the group to help with crowd control; at the concert Barker allegedly assaulted Stones guitarist Keith Richards and kicked a black man to death. "Angels of Death," concluded Tom Dewe Mathews in the New Statesman, "is a well-researched, engrossing account of the biker gangs' rise up America's crime tree."

Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (and Doesn't Seem to Care) is the story of the oil reserves hidden near the Athabasca River in one of Canada's largest provinces. Alberta has the second-largest amount of oil in the world, following only Saudi Arabia. Canada is the United States' largest trading partner and greatest supplier of energy in the form of oil. Most of the oil in Alberta is in the form of bitumen, a semisolid, heavy crude oil that can be extracted economically through surface-mining techniques. With the spike in the price of oil that occurred in the early twenty-first century, the Alberta oil sands could be put into full-scale production, supporting the economy of Canada and supplying needed oil products to the United States.

The problem with this scenario, according to Marden's book, is the fact that extracting oil from the oil sands bears a huge environmental price tag. "As the world teeters on the edge of catastrophic climate change," declared a writer for the Random House Web page, "Alberta plunges ahead with uncontrolled development of its fossil fuels." The greatest oil reserves are under Alberta's boreal forest or its huge peat swamps. These areas represent some of the biggest carbon sinks in the world, reducing global warming by capturing carbon dioxide and locking it away. Once oil-sands excavations remove the forest and expose the peat, the process goes into reverse: the areas that had captured atmospheric carbon begin to release it into the atmosphere, accelerating the global warming process.

The process of extracting the bitumen also weighs heavily on the local environment. "Even now," Nicholas Kohler wrote in Maclean's, "fish pulled from the Athabasca downstream of the oil sands taste of gasoline and smell of burning galoshes in the fry pan. The landscape is perforated by more than 300,000 oil and gas wells. Water in some areas to the south can be set alight with a match, likely due to coal-bed methane developments. Doctors administering to Aboriginal communities not far from the oil sands report high rates of thyroid conditions and rare diseases such as cancer of the bile duct." In addition, huge amounts of water are required to melt the bitumen from the surrounding sands—water that is taken from the Albertan ecosystem. Not all of the water can be reclaimed and put back into the Athabasca River. "Only eight per cent can be made sufficiently clean to go back to the Athabasca," Kohler declared. "The rest stagnates in huge ponds. ‘Birds that land on them never take off,’ David Schindler, an ecologist at the University of Alberta, told Maclean's. Oil sands operators now float buoys in the ponds equipped with hard-hat-wearing scarecrows and propane cannons, whose booming sounds are designed to prevent the water fowl from landing." Kohler concluded: "Designed to be provocative, Stupid to the Last Drop will come under intense fire as an exercise in fearmongering and West-bashing by a Montreal journalist. Yet it will be applauded by others who fear that the environment gets short shrift in Alberta."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 1, 2006, Mike Tribby, review of Angels of Death: Inside the Biker Gangs' Crime Empire, p. 9.

Canadian Book Review Annual, January 1, 2003, review of The Road to Hell: How the Biker Gangs Are Conquering Canada, p. 319.

Eye Opener, January 1, 1992, "Reporter Discovers a Lucrative Trade: Canadian Passports," p. 29.

Maclean's, October 8, 2007, Nicholas Kohler, "Doomsday Alberta Stands Accused: A Huge Fight between East and West—over the Oil Sands—Is Just Starting," review of Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (and Doesn't Seem to Care), p. 20.

New Statesman, July 17, 2006, Tom Dewe Mathews, "Wheels of Fire," review of Angels of Death, p. 59.

ONLINE

Random House,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (August 16, 2008), summary of Stupid to the Last Drop.

RandomHouse.ca,http://www.randomhouse.ca/ (August 16, 2008), author profile.

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