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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

Another historic day in the battle to stop the tar sands


Mike Hudema | Greenpeace Canada - November 25th 2015

Blog Post: Today people slowed the beast again but this time we did it at the source. After a string of pipeline victories and over a decade of campaigning on at least three different continents, the Alberta government has finally put a limit to the tar sands. Today they announced they will cap its expansion and limit the tar sands monster to 100 megatons a year (equivalent to what projects already operating and those currently under construction would produce).

Alberta Premier puts a cap on tar sands development


Kenny Bruno | Corporate Ethics International - November 22nd 2015

Blog Post: They said it was all coming out of the ground "anyway." Not so fast. Alberta Premier Notley formally introduced the Alberta climate package today, including a "legislated" 100 megaton annual cap on emissions from the tar sands. 100 MT is still a lot, but remember that industry has planned for twice that, or more. All the smart work, the hard work, and the persistence has led to a watershed moment for the Tar Sands Campaign.

Alberta climate plan - historic day, more to be done


Keith Stewart | Greenpeace Canada - November 22nd 2015

Blog Post: Today is a historic step for the province of Alberta. After too many years of previous provincial governments heading in the wrong direction and ignoring the problem, we applaud Premier Notley for listening to the growing calls of people across the province and the country demanding action on climate change. The measures announced today will start to slow Alberta’s growing emissions, diversify its economy, create jobs, and allow the province to start taking advantage of its tremendous renewable energy potential. These policies are important first steps, but much bigger emission reductions will be needed for Alberta to do its part to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Climate Welcome shows Trudeau what true climate action looks like


Clayton Thomas Muller | Climate Welcome - November 3rd 2015

Blog Post: Four years ago, the fight to stop this pipeline in the United States was fired up by a historic sit-in at the White House. Now we have a chance to do something similar in Canada. Hundreds of people have already told us that they’re coming to Ottawa for the Climate Welcome sit-ins. Over four days people from coast to coast will risk arrest to call on Canada’s new Prime Minister to take bold climate action by freezing tar sands expansion and committing to a justice based transition to a clean energy future. This is our chance to make history -- I hope you’ll join me in Ottawa.

ICYMI: Another tar sands project bites the dust


Various | Various - October 29th 2015

Blog Post: Royal Dutch Shell announced this week that the company is abandoning plans for construction of a major tar sands project, citing concerns about a lack of sufficient pipeline capacity to ship tar sands to market. “Shell joins Suncor Energy Inc. and Cenovus Energy Inc. in deferring investment this year in the oil sands, one of the most expensive places to extract crude,” noted Bloomberg. “The decision reflects uncertainties including the lack of transportation infrastructure to move Canadian crude to global markets, Shell said.”

Low prices are crushing Canada’s oil sands industry. Shell’s the latest casualty.

Brad Plumer | Vox.com - October 29th 2015

Press Clipping: The battle over the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States has always been a fight about Canada's oil sands. Those sands contain vast reservoirs of crude oil, more than enough to cook the planet. So, to constrict development, environmentalists have been trying to block pipelines, like Keystone, that might enable industry expansion. But increasingly, this whole debate is becoming moot — over the past year, global oil prices have plummeted. And, in response, many companies have been backing away from the oil sands, finding they can't make the economics of new projects work.

Lockdown: The end of growth in the tar sands


Hannah McKinnon, Greg Muttitt and Lorne Stockman | Oil Change International - October 28th 2015

Report: The pipelines exporting tar sands out of Alberta are almost full, according to new analysis by Oil Change International. Without the construction of major pipelines, such as Energy East, Kinder Morgan or Keystone XL, there will be no room for further growth in tar sands extraction and tens of billions of metric tonnes of carbon will be kept in the ground. This would be a significant step towards a safer climate.

Is it the beginning of the end for the Alberta oilsands?


Carol Linnitt | DeSmog Canada - October 28th 2015

Press Clipping: A new report from Oil Change International challenges industry’s common assumption that the continued production of oilsands crude is inevitable. The report, "Lockdown: The End of Growth in the Tar Sands", argues industry projections — to expand oilsands production from a current 2.1 million barrels per day to as much as 5.8 million barrels per day by 2035 — rely on high prices, public licence and a growing pipeline infrastructure, all of which are endangered in a carbon-constrained world. Growing opposition to oil production — especially in the oilsands, which is among the most carbon intensive oil in the world — has significantly turned public perception against new pipelines, while current ones are operating at 89 per cent capacity.