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

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.

Is this pipeline company ready for some whale hazing?

Heather Smith | Grist.Org - July 3rd 2014

Press Clipping: The pipeline situation in Canada has been contentious for a while. But now, it’s getting positively weird. In the latest twist, the energy giant Kinder Morgan is proposing a novel wildlife protection scheme. If a pipeline expansion that boosts oil exports out of Vancouver leads to a massive new spill, Kinder Morgan says it knows just what to do: It will spook the whales.

Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia: Implications for the Enbridge Tankers and Pipelines Project

Jessica Clogg | Executive Director and Senior Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law - June 30th 2014

Blog Post: On June 26, 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decision in Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia marked a watershed moment in the long journey of First Nations peoples to achieve recognition of their inherent title and authority over their ancestral territories. This is the first court declaration of Aboriginal title in Canadian history. What are its implications for B.C. and across the country?

Alberta selling endangered caribou habitat to produce more oil and gas


Editors | Tar Sands Solutions Network - June 9th 2014

Blog Post: While Alberta’s Energy Minister visits crude oil customers in Delaware, Philadelphia and New York Cit, the Alberta government auctions off endangered caribou habitat for new oil and gas leases. The leases will allow new surface disturbance, making survival chances even worse for the caribou. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) wants American consumers of Alberta crude to know that halting new energy leasing in endangered caribou ranges is critical to caribou survival in Alberta.

Ottawa removing North Pacific humpback whales from list of ‘threatened’ species


Peter O'Neil | Vancouver Sun - April 23rd 2014

Press Clipping: The Harper government is downgrading the protection of the North Pacific humpback whale despite objections from a clear majority of groups that were consulted. Critics say the whales could face greater danger if two major oilsands pipeline projects get the go-ahead, since both would result in a sharp increase in movement of large vessels on the West Coast that occasionally collide with, and kill, whales like the humpback.

Incredible photos of tar sands by Pulitzer Center journalists


Carol Linnitt | DeSmog Canada - April 9th 2014

Blog Post: Journalist Dan Grossman and photographer Alex MacLean are in the middle of their week-long tour of the Alberta oilsands. Their on-the-scene reporting is meant to bring greater public attention to the scale – and the stakes – of developing oil from the world’s largest deposit of carbon-intensive bitumen.

Species At Risk Act: Court finds ‘enormous systemic problem’ in enforcement


Bruce Cheadle | Canadian Press - February 17th 2014

Press Clipping: A Federal Court judge has ruled that the environment minister and the fisheries minister both broke the law by failing to enforce the Species at Risk Act. The challenge was brought by five environmental organizations, who asked the court to enforce provisions under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) for the Nechako white sturgeon, the pacific humpback whale, the marbled murrelet and the southern mountain woodland caribou. The court decision could put a damper on Enbridge’s plan to build the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would impact all of these SARA-listed species.