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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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- 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

Next PM needs to be ready for a postpetroleum world

Gary Mason | The Globe and Mail - October 2nd 2015

Press Clipping: The next prime minister needs to start preparing for a postpetroleum world. Oil does not have to be what defines Canada’s economy; in fact, oil and gas represent only about 10 per cent of it (but 25 per cent of our exports). Given the attention climate change is receiving these days, and given oil’s ambiguous future, it’s time Canada’s political leadership began to focus on transitioning from an economic model that increasingly looks fraught to one that reflects new global realities and priorities.

Shell exits Arctic as slump in oil prices forces industry to retrench


Clifford Kraus and Stanley Reed | The New York Times - September 29th 2015

Press Clipping: On Monday, Royal Dutch Shell ended its expensive and fruitless nine-year effort to explore for oil in the Alaskan Arctic — a $7 billion investment — in another sign that the entire industry is trimming its ambitions in the wake of collapsing oil prices. The announcement was hailed as a major victory by environmentalists, who had fought the project for years. At a time when global markets are glutted with oil, the announcement also confirmed major oil companies’ increasing willingness to turn their backs on the most expensive new drilling prospects in the Gulf of Mexico and suspend plans for new projects in Canada’s oil sands.

What went right? Why Shell lost its bet in the Arctic

September 28th 2015

Blog Post: Royal Dutch Shell announced this morning that it would be abandoning its exploration program in the U.S. offshore Arctic for the “foreseeable future” (see our response here). After more than 7 billion dollars and many seasons of almost unbelievable mishaps – Shell made the call along with an announcement that this season’s efforts had failed to turn up any worthwhile find. This is a huge win for the climate. We know that Arctic oil (like tar sands oil) is incompatible with a safe global climate. So what went right for those opposing Shell’s arctic drilling? And how can tar sands opponents learn from them?

Oil sands being left In the ground is just a matter of fact, experts say


Bob Weber | Canadian Press - August 13th 2015

Press Clipping: The furor over a New Democrat candidate's remarks about leaving Alberta's oilsands in the ground reflects how poorly the issue is understood, say energy experts. To many, Toronto Centre candidate Linda McQuaig's recent statement is just the simple fact of the matter. "The shock is that anyone would be shocked by this," said Mark Jaccard, an environmental economist at Simon Fraser University. "It's kind of like we're in a dialogue in Canada that reminds me of Saudi Arabia 20 years ago."

TransCanada delays pipeline construction

August 2nd 2015

Press Clipping: TransCanada is indefinitely suspending construction on its Heartland line from Edmonton to Hardisty since the Keystone XL and Energy East systems it would supply are delayed, executives said Friday on a conference call. Full expansion of the company’s Grand Rapids line from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, now under construction with startup planned for 2016, is being slowed as production rises more slowly in the oil sands. TransCanada also has pushed back startup to 2020 for the Energy East line to Canada’s Atlantic Coast as it works to redesign the project to address opposition in Quebec.

There’s no climate leadership in a tar sands pipeline

Mike Hudema | Greenpeace Canada - July 17th 2015

Blog Post: Instead of talking with the country’s other provincial leaders about how to speed up the transition to renewable energy, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley met with Quebec’s premier to talk about how to dig us further into the problem by green lighting the $12-billion Energy East tar sands pipeline. If constructed, Energy East would carry 1.1 million barrels of crude a day and producing the crude needed to fill it would generate up 32 million tonnes of additional greenhouse gas emissions each year — an impact even greater than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.