Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

The Truth About Tar Sands: The Dirtiest Oil on Earth

  • Destructive: Tar sands mining decimates Canada’s Boreal Forest which stores more than 27 years worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions. (source)

  • Dangerous: Tar sands are Canada’s fastest-growing source of climate-disrupting carbon pollution. (source)

  • Wasteful: Tar sands facilities used approximately 170 million cubic meters of water in 2011 to extract bitumen — that’s the equivalent to the residential water use of 1.7 million Canadians. (source)

  • Sickening: Communities downstream from tar sands mines in Canada report 30 percent more incidents of rare bile duct cancer than those who do not live near the tar sands. (source)

  • Polluting: The air in communities near Alberta’s tar sands production facilities have carcinogenic contaminants — like butadiene and benzene — prevalent at higher concentrations than in some of the most polluted cities in the world. (source)

  • Violates Native Rights: The Beaver Lake Cree have documented 20,000 treaty rights violations in the face of tar sands expansion. 80% of the traditional territories of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and  the Mikisew Cree First Nation are rendered inaccessible for periods of the year due to tar sands development. (source)

  • Exterminating: Under current oil sands expansion plans, woodland caribou populations are expected to disappear. (source)

  • Toxic: The annual carbon pollution from the Keystone XL pipeline would be the equivalent of adding 51 new coal-fired power plants. (source)

  • Takes Us Backwards: Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil. (source)

  • Devastating: Fully exploiting the tar sands could release more climate pollution than either the USA and China combined — or EU plus China combined — have released in all their history. (source)

  • And Only Getting Worse: There is no limit to the amount of tar sands development the Alberta and Canadian governments are willing to allow – despite the serious social, economic and environmental problems this growth will unleash on the world. (source)


Why It Needs to Stay in the Ground

Stretching across a region the size of New York State, the tar sands region in Alberta and Saskatchewan is located in the heart of Canada’s Boreal Forest. Referred to as “the lungs of the planet,” this ancient forest of coniferous trees features a diverse array of plant and animal species among extensive wetlands and ranks only behind the Amazon Rainforest as the second-largest carbon storehouse in the world. The area is also the traditional territory of the Dene, Cree, and Métis indigenous people.

The prospect of extracting an estimated 170 billion barrels of tar sands oil has put the region under the microscope of some of the world’s biggest polluters. Since extraction began nearly 40 years ago, upwards of 1.3 million barrels are being sucked out of region every day — a figure set to triple by 2018.

The Sierra Club is fighting to keep tar sands in the ground because, put simply, producing tar sands is one of the most environmentally destructive industrial developments in the world. We already know that tar sands have a devastating impact on our water-from poisoning rivers and water tables, to killing wildlife, to using millions of gallons each year. If we allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built, we will be putting our future health and safety in jeopardy. It is time to move beyond this dirty and destructive fuel toward a clean energy future for the First Nations and all people, the environment of Canada, and the world.