Tar sands

Tar sands are found underneath Canada’s great boreal forest and consist of heavy crude oil trapped in a mixture of sand and clay. To extract oil from tar sands, companies must destroy fragile forest ecosystems and then use a very energy-intensive upgrading and refining process to turn that sludge into transportation fuel. Tar sands mining and production harm the boreal forest’s fragile ecosystem, waste enormous amounts of water, disrupt the lives of indigenous people in the area and threaten our climate.

Our primary tar sands campaign objective at present is to stop the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

Climate Impacts

Tar sands oil extraction and production emits three times more carbon dioxide than does the extraction and production of conventional oil. If we expand our use of dirty tar sands, we could jeopardize the gains we make combating climate change via fuel economy standards and the use of clean energy sources as vehicle fuels.

Ecosystem Destruction

Tar Sands Extraction Photo by David Dodge of the Pembina InstituteTar sands extraction requires total destruction of pristine areas within the Canadian Boreal forest, one of the few large, intact ecosystems on Earth. The forest is clear cut, the wetlands are drained, and living matter and soil are hauled away to expose the tar sands. Oil companies remove and dump four tons of sand and soil for every one barrel of oil they get from tar sands.

Water Waste

Extracting the fossil fuels in tar sands from the sand, silt, and clay requires enormous amounts of water. It takes about three barrels of water to extract one barrel of oil. More than 90 percent of this water, 400 million gallons per day, ends up as toxic waste dumped in massive pools that contain carcinogenic substances like cyanide.

Disruption of Native People

The tar sands are being mined in a region home to many native people. They have trouble practicing their cultural traditions because of the destruction caused by tailing ponds and strip mining operations. The people downstream from the toxic tailing ponds have high rates of rare cancers, renal failure, lupus and hyperthyroidism. Indigenous groups have organized and protested to stop the expansion of tar sands operations.

What We Can Do

Tar sands already make up four percent of the crude oil we use and our tax dollars are already subsidizing pipelines and refineries that would allow oil companies to quadruple that amount. But the majority of tar sands oil is shipped through the United States for export. To fully exploit the tar sands, oil companies need to be able to transport it via pipelines to specially equipped refineries in the Gulf. So, stopping U.S. permits and taxpayer subsidies for new pipelines and upgraded refineries will go a long way towards ending oil companies’ exploitation of this dirty fuel.

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