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Stop the Expansion

Few Canadians are aware how fast the tar sands are growing. 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. 

The impact of the world's largest industrial project on climate, water, wildlife, land, and First Nations communities is profound. With almost no debate or oversight, Canadians have accepted most of the long-term pollution and reputational risks while global oil giants enjoy unprecedented growth and profit.

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The tar sands are the largest industrial project on Earth and growing
Key Problems:
- Industry plans to triple production, and keep growing
- Dramatic negative impacts are not acknowedged  
- 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

Today, tar sands development produces 1.7 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, while other estimates suggest tar sands expansion could 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.

Stop the Expansion Updates & Resources

Andrew Weaver: British Columbia and the Alberta tar sands

Andrew Weaver | Georgia Straight - February 11th 2014

Press Clipping: When a provocative headline says something like " Green Party MLA supports refinery", you can bet that heads will turn. But issues are not black and white; they are nuanced shades of grey. In what follows, I provide an analysis of the issues surrounding the expansion of tar sands and proposed pipeline projects in North America. I am hoping this piece will provide a catalyst for further discussion.

Tar sands communities flee homes to escape emissions, panel told


Mike Hudema | Greenpeace Canada - February 4th 2014

Blog Post: As the Alberta government was celebrating the State Department analysis into the effects of the KeystoneXL tar sands pipeline, several Peace River residents were at a hearing talking about the tar sands emissions that they've been dealing with since 2011. Residents have watched as their cattle got sick, then as their family members did as well. The main source of the problem is believed to be emissions from a Baytex tar sands facility. But Shell, Husky, Murphy Oil, and Tervita operations (some of which are also tar sands facilities) also seem to be contributing to the worrisome situation.

Alberta needs housecleaning on oilsands before guests arrive


Don Braid | Calgary Herald - January 24th 2014

Press Clipping: Premier Alison Redford will welcome 100 decision-makers to a regional conference of the World Economic Forum, set for April 24 to 25 in Lake Louise. This is an excellent chance to show important guests that Alberta is neither Hiroshima nor an environmental red zone. It will be a great opportunity, but only if we catch up on the housekeeping before the guests arrive. Alberta has left too many chores undone. The record on environmental protection is spotty. Emissions are climbing. The province has failed to exercise even modest control of rampant development in the oilsands zone. It’s time, finally, to follow the late Lougheed’s advice. There should be a pause on approval of new projects until the province can catch up with problems stemming from development and rising emissions.

Former MP says oilsands growing too fast for Fort McMurray

Marty Klinkenberg | Calgary Herald - January 21st 2014

Press Clipping: Residents of Fort McMurray don’t enjoy the same quality of life as people elsewhere in the country because the oilsands are being developed too fast, the area’s former Member of Parliament says. Brian Jean, who resigned this month after 10 years as a Conservative MP, says the infrastructure in Fort McMurray can’t handle the population boom and economic growth that has come with the pace of expansion. “I think nothing should trump quality of life, but unfortunately it continues to be trumped in Fort McMurray,” Jean said Monday. His final day as an MP was Friday. “It seems like we are trying to get every bit (of oil) out of the ground right away, but the oil isn’t going anywhere. Do we need to do it at the cost of people’s lives?”

Fort McMoney players vote to stop exploiting the oil sands


Globe Staff | Globe and Mail - December 17th 2013

Press Clipping: As part of the documentary game Fort McMoney, users get to help shape the future of Fort McMurray and Alberta’s oil sands. They do this by voting in surveys and weekly referendums. This past week, the referendum question was: Should we stop exploiting the oil sands? Voting has closed and the results are in: 77 per cent voted 'yes' (with 358 673 votes), and 23 per cent voted 'no' (108 625 votes).

Group reapplies to oppose Alberta oilsands project after court fight

Bob Weber | Canadian Press - December 13th 2013

Press Clipping: An environmental group has reapplied to speak to an oilsands review panel after a court tossed out the Alberta government's attempt to block the organization. The Alberta Oilsands Environmental Coalition is asking the province for a chance to appear at a regulatory hearing into a project proposed by Southern Pacific Resource Corp. to expand an oilsands facility northwest of Fort McMurray. "We oppose the project in its current form and are seeking the opportunity to voice our concerns at a hearing," the coalition said in a letter filed Wednesday.

Edmonton’s major newspaper editorial board calls for a slowing of oil sands development


Editorial Board | Edmonton Journal - December 11th 2013

Blog Post: The Edmonton Journal editorial board has just published an editorial that must read like anethema to tar sands supporters. Entitled "The risks of rushing the oilsands," this opinion piece asks Albertans to think about the intractable environmental problems that tar sands development has not been able to solve, particularly greenhouse gas emissions and toxic tailings lakes. It acknowledges that the promise of technology as a panacea has not played out and that it's risky to allow development to continue without it, and then suggests that it's time to slow things down until we have the solutions in hand. This may sound like common sense, but it is a position that has been missing from the debate about the future of Alberta's bitumen reserves, so bravo for the Edmonton Journal to put it one the editorial page for all Canadians to read.

Worst-Case scenario for oil sands industry has come to life, leaked document shows


Katherine Bagley | InsideClimate News - December 5th 2013

Press Clipping: As environmentalists began ratcheting up pressure against Canada's tar sands three years ago, one of the world's biggest strategic consulting firms was tapped to help the North American oil industry figure out how to handle the mounting activism. The resulting document, published online by WikiLeaks, offers another window into how oil and gas companies have been scrambling to deal with unrelenting opposition to their growth plans. "This worst-case scenario is exactly what has happened," partly because opposition to tar sands development has expanded beyond nonprofit groups to include individual activists concerned about climate change, said Mark Floegel, a senior investigator for Greenpeace. "The more people in America see Superstorm Sandys or tornadoes in Chicago, the more they are waking up and joining the fight."