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.
- 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.