Tar Sands Solutions Network

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Stop the Expansion

Few Canadians are aware how fast the tar sands have grown. In its obsession with rapid expansion, the Alberta government has approved more than 100 tar sands projects covering 92,000 square kilometres of northern boreal forest, with another 100 projects covering an additional 50,000 square kilometres proposed or under review. Current industry plans will expand production more than 3X from current levels, all but guaranteeing the destruction of the earth's climate.

However, the indefinite delay of Total's Josyln North tar sands mine is a clear indication that industry’s growth forecasts are not accurate and a sign that the continued expansion of the tar sands is anything but inevitable. Tar sands are high cost, high risk, and high carbon. Josyln North’s mothballing is the latest in a developing trend that doesn't bode well for the industry's future. The economics of the tar sands are marginal today, and nd in a carbon constrained world, they become increasingly unviable.

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Overview:
- The tar sands are the largest industrial project on Earth, and it's growing fast
Key Problems:
- Industry plans to triple productionby 2030
- Dramatic negative impacts are being ignored  
- There are literally no limits on continued expansion
Current Status:
- Current planned expansion is in line with global demand scenarios for a 6 degree global temperature rise.
- Cancellation of Total's Joclyn North tar sands mine indicates expansion is not inevitable. 

Today, tar sands development produces 1.9 million barrels of tar sands oil per day (BPD), up from 300,000 BPD in 1999. But the oil industry is just getting started. The rapid approval and construction of tar sands projects will more than triple output over the next 17 years. Industry estimates indicate production capacity will explode to more than five million BPD by 2030. The tar sands industry already has announced plans to increase production to nine million barrels per day.

There is literally 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.

Most of the oil produced today is from giant, open-pit mines. Bitumen is torn from the ground and upgraded in enormous factories. This process destroys immense amounts of forest and wildlife habitat, creates toxic tailings ponds the size of lakes, and pollutes the region's rivers and streams with dangerous chemicals. The future of tar sands development relies on an a different process, called in situ (Latin for "in place") extraction. Here, steam and chemicals are injected deep underground, where the bitumen melts and is pumped to the surface. In situ extraction uses tremendous amounts of water, and because it requires turning water into steam, it uses an enormous amount of energy, which means it creates an enormous amount of climate-warming greenhouse gases.

The size and scale of Alberta's tar sands experiment is gargantuan. Together, more than 100 mining and in situ operations are dewatering the Athabasca River, poisoning streams and rivers, warming the climate, and driving caribou to extinction. It is also consuming the traditional lands of the region's First Nations people and preventing them from exercising their constitutionally protected right to hunt and fish in a region that is being turned into an industrial moonscape.

For whose benefit? Oil companies, most of which are foreign owned. This means that Canadians aren’t getting their fair share of the benefits of tar sands development, and yet they bear most of the risks.

It is the oil industry that is driving the massive expansion of the tar sands, and that expansion, in turn, is driving the construction of new and repurposed pipelines all over North America – through British Columbia to its pristine West Coast, through Central Canada and New England to the Atlantic Ocean, and through the Midwest, the breadbasket of America, to the Gulf of Mexico. As devastating spills in Michigan and Arkansas have proved, these pipelines inevitably will spill their toxic cargo along the way, poisoning waterways, polluting communities, and undermining livelihoods for thousands of people.

Perhaps the worst consequence of massive investment in tar sands expansion and the web of pipelines necessary to carry its dirty oil to market is that it locks us into relying on dirty oil for another century. This can only lead to the most catastrophic impacts of a climate warmed beyond recognition. The resulting six degree Celsius increase in global temperature will wreak havoc on the environmental, social and political stability that modern civilization requires to function.

The intractable problems and extraordinary risks of a tar sands world are just too great. Tar sands expansion must be stopped and, eventually, phased out altogether. Recent announcments, and the growing opposition to tar sands pipelines, indicates we're moving in the right direction (albeit slowly).

Stop the Expansion Updates & Resources

The case for a moratorium on tar sands development

Ed Struzik | Yale e360 - September 4th 2014

Press Clipping: Ecologist Wendy Palen is one of a group of scientists who recently called for a moratorium on new development of Alberta’s tar sands. In a Yale Environment 360 interview, she talks about why Canada and the U.S. need to reconsider the tar sands as part of a long-term energy policy.

Declining air quality in the tar sands region: Is the government responding?

Danielle Droitsch | NRDC - August 14th 2014

Blog Post: A new report released by the Alberta government reveals a concerning trend with declining air pollution as a result of tar sands operations. While the report itself was just released, the air pollution information in the report dates back in 2012 -- and there appears to be a total lack of a response by the Alberta government to this problem.

Oil sands air pollution on the rise

Feature

Editors | Tar Sands Solutions Network - August 14th 2014

Blog Post: A new Government of Alberta air quality report confirms what many environmentalists, First Nations and local residents have long feared: air pollution is on the rise in the tar sands region, and at least two pollutants have excedded air quality triggers in northeastern Alberta. “Although many of these air quality triggers were exceeded 18 months ago, the government has proposed no corrective actions to reduce air pollution," said Amin Asadollahi, oilsands program director at the Pembina Institute. "Alberta’s lack of urgency in addressing these air quality issues is concerning.

BREAKING: Newfound threat to tar sands projects

Feature

Andrew Nikiforuk | The Tyee - July 28th 2014

Press Clipping: A new study suggests that naturally occurring upward flow of groundwater in the oilsands region is creating fractures and weaknesses that may explain a series of catastrophic events for the controversial mining industry. The findings, soon to appear in the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, have significant implications for groundwater protection, the security of massive industrial wastewater disposal in the region as well as the economics and placement of more than 100 steam plants and mines.

How a town in Maine is blocking an Exxon tar-sands pipeline

Feature

Roger Drouin | Grist - July 23rd 2014

Press Clipping: Citizens trying to stop the piping of tar-sands oil through their community wore blue “Clear Skies” shirts at a city council meeting in South Portland, Maine, this week. But they might as well have been wearing boxing gloves. The small city struck a mighty blow against Canadian tar-sands extraction. “It’s been a long fight,” said resident Andy Jones after a 6-1 city council vote on Monday to approve the Clear Skies Ordinance, which will block the loading of heavy tar-sands bitumen onto tankers at the city’s port.

Sign the petition to Suncor Energy

July 22nd 2014

Visual: Suncor is spending millions on a high profile public relations blitz to convince Canadians it cares about the environment. But we know Suncor is lobbying to get exempted from new water regulations and so it can take as much fresh water from the Athabasca River as it wants -- and then dump its toxic tailings water right into the Athabasca River. Tell Suncor you support absolute limits on water withdrawals and a ban on waste water dumping.

Energy Wars: First Nations group says process to expand oilsands ‘like an environmental horror story

Feature

Les Whittington | Toronto Star - June 5th 2014

Press Clipping: The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s conflict with oilsands developers has attracted international attention and their fight to slow oilsands expansion has run head-on into the far-reaching overhaul of federal environmental rules brought in by the Conservatives two years ago. “Canada has become a playground for oil and gas companies and my peoples’ traditional territory is what’s being sold,” ACFN spokesperson Eriel Deranger says. “Our entire area is going to be annihilated by this type of developmsent.”