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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

Cuomo administration blocks massive tar sands oil facility expansion in Albany, NY

May 25th 2015

Blog Post: In the face of a court challenge from a broad coalition of environmental and community groups and massive community opposition, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today halted Global Companies’ proposed expansion of its massive Albany oil train facility to handle tar sands oil. “The Sierra Club applauds Governor Cuomo and the DEC for using the State’s full jurisdictional powers to protect New Yorkers from the growing threat of unsafe tar sands-by-rail transport,” said Roger Downs, Conservation Director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

Opinion: How Ontario and Quebec can fight climate change together

Tim Gray | Environmental Defence - May 11th 2015

Press Clipping: Fighting climate change is about increasing our use of clean, renewable energy, and decreasing the amount of dirty energy from fossil fuels. Ontario and Quebec have clear opportunities to collaborate on both. Quebec has an abundance of clean hydro power and more of that would be a welcome addition to Ontario’s electricity mix. On the fossil fuel side, both provinces have the ability to say no to the longest, largest oilsands pipeline ever — TransCanada’s Energy East, a pipeline that would allow for the expansion of the oilsands, the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases in Canada.

Alberta’s possible pivot to the left alarms Canadian oil sector


Scott Haggett and Nia Williams | Reuters - May 5th 2015

Press Clipping: Canada's oil-rich province of Alberta is on the cusp of electing a left-wing government that can make life harder for the energy industry with its plans to raise taxes, end support for key pipeline projects and seek a bigger cut of oil revenues. Why? There is voter fatigue with a party seen as too comfortable and scandal-prone after decades in power. "I know some extremely neo-conservative guys who have said enough is enough,” said one executive at a large oil and gas producer who declined to be named because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

Bringing Together a Movement to #KeepItInTheGround

Lena Moffitt | Sierra Club - April 27th 2015

Press Clipping: Last week, I had the honor of joining an incredible group of indigenous and frontline leaders and activists from across the Americas for the "Climate Equity Summit: Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground." The event, organized by Amazon Watch and the Sierra Club, was envisioned as a space to connect the heroic efforts of people fighting coal, oil and gas developments from the Arctic to the Amazon, and create an opportunity for each of these powerful movements to come together into one broader movement to #KeepItInTheGround.

Keystone and the riddle of the tar sands


Mark Dowie | Newsweek - March 4th 2015

Press Clipping: Before Canada selected tar sands crude to be its staple export, the country was poised to become a major global contributor to clean energy. Then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a powerful neoliberal free-market zealot, decided to double down on high-carbon fuels and announce to the world that tar sands would become the next nation-building staple for his country. It appears he was wrong about that, which would not be a bad outcome for the planet.

Shell Canada pulls application for Alberta heavy oil mine in latest blow to energy sector


February 24th 2015

Press Clipping: The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation welcomed Shell Canada’s decision to pull its application for the proposed Pierre River oilsands project north of Fort McMurray, Alta. “Now, more than ever, we can see the serious economic, environmental and treaty rights issues in the region are affecting the status quo of business,” said the ACFN, which has launched numerous legal challenges of the regulatory process in the region and participated as interveners in the Pierre River project since 2007.

Tar sands inspires winning climate movement


Editors | Tar Sands Solutions - January 14th 2015

Blog Post: 2014 was a watershed year for the climate movement, which reached fever pitch last year because of the growing opposition to tar sands oil and the various pipeline proposals that would carry this dirty crude to market. "In the process of fighting, that movement has grown exponentially,” wrote Grist’s David Roberts. “It is now larger, more coherent, and more activated than it was before the Keystone battle. In sum: The climate movement picked a fight, trained, bulked up, kept at it, and now looks like it’s going to win."