Tar Sands Solutions Network

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Land & Species Impacts

Tar sands development disturbs a staggering amount of pristine boreal forest, creates giant toxic lakes that will be left behind, and will kill millions of songbirds, fish and caribou. 

Vast open-pit mines, and the proliferation of roads, pipelines and well sites have already removed tens of thousands of acres of wetlands and forest, and fragmented or destroyed wildlife habitat. If tar sands expansion plans are realized, it will forever undermine the ecological health of 140,000 square kilometres of boreal forest, an area the size of Florida and 20 per cent of Alberta’s land base.

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Tar sands expansion degrades the health of 20% of Alberta's land  
Key Issues:
- Only 0.15% of disturbed land has ever been "reclaimed" 
- Caribou and multiple bird species will be extirpated 
Current Status:
Federal and Provincial protection laws are inadequate and sensitive ecosystems are being destoyed  

Although tar sands companies are required to reclaim the lands they have disrupted, only one of the 715 square kilometres – just 0.15 per cent – of land that has been disturbed by tar sands mining operations has been certified as “reclaimed,” and there are no plans (because it is impossible) to restore the drained and destroyed wetlands that cover 60 per cent of the area. Even if reclamation takes places, the boreal forest will never be returned to its natural state, just a sterile but convenient shadow of its former self.

With tar sands development set to triple over the next two decades, it will put at risk some of North America’s most beloved wildlife species. Following steep declines over the last 20 years, there are only 900 woodland caribou, a legally listed threatened species, left in the tar sands region, and scientists predict that the expansion of tar sands development will push them to extinction. Over 30 million birds will be lost over the next 20 years due to tar sands development. 

Toxic tailings ponds, which now cover 176 square kilometres, will eventually expand to 250 square kilometres and will never be removed. The acutely toxic tailings will simply be allowed to settle to the bottom of large pits, which will be “capped” with fresh water. This is a highly controversial reclamation strategy, and there is no evidence that using these “end pit lakes” as toxic waste dumps is a safe, long-term strategy for reclaiming tailings waste.

These tailings ponds have already killed thousands of songbirds and waterfowl, and they threaten North America’s only natural whooping crane population, which migrates over the tar sands on its way to its breeding grounds.

The only way to avoid creating a vast ravaged, empty, and toxic landscape is to prevent the expansion of the tar sands, and eventually phase this dirty energy source out of existence.

Land & Species Impacts Updates & Resources

Editorial: Stop crying wolf

Editorial Board | Calgary Herald - February 18th 2015

Press Clipping: The province should stop poisoning and shooting wolves, and instead, train its metaphorical guns on the real culprit in the decline of caribou populations — itself. “This is a true case of scapegoating wolves for something that we’re all responsible for. There’s no effort to address the ultimate causes of caribou endangerment — industrial development over numerous years,” said eminent wolf specialist Paul Paquet.

Fall Guys

Jason Bittel | OnEarth - February 17th 2015

Press Clipping: Hervieux’s department within the Albertan government has been killing about 100 wolves per year—via poison bait and helicopter gunmen—since December 2005 to keep caribou populations stable while tar sands development destroys their habitat. “It’s sort of grotesque that the focus is on wildlife that are symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself,” says Carolyn Campbell, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.

Pipeline peril: Tar Sands expansion and the threat to wildlife in the Great Lakes region

December 17th 2014

Blog Post: The health and future of the Great Lakes region, which provides drinking water to millions of people, is at grave risk from tar sands oil pipeline expansions, according to a new report by the National Wildlife Federation. "Pipeline Peril: Tar Sands Expansion and the Threat to Wildlife in the Great Lakes Region" explains the incredibly high risk and direct threat involved for wildlife and people of the Great Lakes region if pipeline expansions continue.

Alberta oilsands footprint grows in endangered caribou habitat despite viable alternatives

October 14th 2014

Blog Post: An area the size of Prince Edward Island (over 560,000 hectares) has been auctioned for new oil and gas leases in threatened Alberta woodland caribou ranges since October 2012. There are no meaningful surface disturbance limits on these leases even though the federal government directed provinces in October 2012 to reduce industry footprint within their caribou ranges. “Will the Prentice government preside over Alberta caribou extinction?" says Carolyn Campbell. “Or choose solutions for caribou that can also work for industry?”

The unsolved mysteries of oilsands environmental monitoring

Andrew Read | Pembina Institute - October 14th 2014

Blog Post: Running a comprehensive monitoring program for the oilsands industry is very challenging — especially considering how huge the industry is already. Oilsands development currently produces 61 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution, consumes 185 billion litres of freshwater annually and has directly transformed more land area than the entire city of Calgary. And yet key questions that underpin the overall effectiveness of this environmental monitoring system have yet to be answered or fully addressed.

Audubon scientists: 314 North American bird species threatened by global warming

Editors | Tar Sands Solutions Network - September 11th 2014

Publication: Climate change threatens nearly half the bird species in the continental United States and Canada, including the Bald Eagle and dozens of iconic birds like the Common Loon, Baltimore Oriole and Brown Pelican, according to a new study published today by National Audubon Society. The study identifies 126 species that will lose more than 50 percent of their current ranges - in some cases up to 100 percent - by 2050, with no possibility of moving elsewhere if global warming continues on its current trajectory.

North America can say goodbye to half its birds if rising GHG emissions aren’t stopped

Chris Rose | DeSmog Canada - September 11th 2014

Press Clipping: An alarming new study published by the National Audubon Society says that almost half the bird species in the continental United States and Canada are threatened by climate change. The study — Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report — finds that 126 species will lose more than 50 per cent of their current ranges by mid-century with no possibility of relocating if global warming continues at its current pace. “It’s a punch in the gut,” said Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham. "The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming."

Tar sands threaten world’s largest boreal forest

Rachael Petersen, Nigel Sizer and Peter Lee | World Resources Institute - July 17th 2014

Blog Post: According to data from Global Forest Watch, an online mapping platform that tracks deforestation in near-real time, industrial development and forest fires in Canada’s tar sands region has cleared or degraded 775,500 hectares (almost two million acres) of boreal forest since the year 2000 (Map A). That’s an area more than six times the size of New York City. If the tar sands extraction boom continues, as many predict, we can expect forest loss to increase.