Tar Sands Solutions Network

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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.

Updates & Resources

New study compares federal party positions on climate, tar sands and clean energy


October 2nd 2015

Blog Post: Today two of Canada’s largest environmental groups released a summary of the five major federal parties’ positions on environmental issues, including climate change and the upcoming Paris climate summit, tar sands and the Energy East pipeline as well as renewable energy, public transit and the electrification of transportation. The study is based on responses to a series of questions that the environmental groups sent to the Conservative Party of Canada, the Green Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, and (in the French version) the Bloc Québécois. All parties responded to the questionnaire except for the Conservative Party.

What is TransCanada’s latest Hail Mary about?

Jane Kleeb | Bold Nebraska - October 8th 2015

Blog Post: TransCanada’s latest Hail Mary has many people scratching their heads. For those of us on the ground, we see through their antics. TransCanada cannot use eminent domain for at least two yearsbecause of a Nebraska law that makes it clear once you invoke eminent domain (which they did months ago) and then abandon eminent domain (which they did last week), you can not use those powers again for at least two years.

California just signed a landmark bill to tackle climate change


Raven Rakia | Grist - October 8th 2015

Press Clipping: It’s official. California Gov. Jerry Brown just signed climate-change bill SB 350 into law. The landmark measure promises to reduce California’s greenhouse gases by increasing the use of renewable energy. By 2030, 50 percent of the state’s electricity will be produced by renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal). You probably have broken out in celebratory dance by now. Which is fine, because this is great news.

Canadian Climate Policy Report Card: 2015


Marc Jaccard | Simon Fraser University - October 8th 2015

Report: In this 2015 climate policy report card, I evaluate the Canadian government’s emission commitments and policy actions. In the nine years since its promise to reduce Canadian emissions 20% by 2020 and 65% by 2050, the Canadian government has implemented virtually no polices that would materially reduce emissions. The 2020 target is now unachievable without great harm to the Canadian economy. And this may also be the case for the 2050 target, which would require an almost complete transformation of the Canadian energy system in the remaining 35 years.

After the Sands: How will Canada weather a low-carbon future?

Gordon Laxer | University of Alberta - October 8th 2015

Blog Post: Hailed as “a myth-destroying blockbuster book” by Ralph Nader, After the Sands outlines a vision and road map to transition Canada to a low- carbon society: a plan lacking within all of Canada’s major political parties. After the Sands sets out a bold strategy using deep conservation and a Canada-first perspective. The goal: to end oil and natural gas exports and ensure that all Canadians get sufficient energy at affordable prices in a carbon-constrained future.

The planet can’t handle five more years of Harper

Cam Fenton | 350.org - October 7th 2015

Press Clipping: This election has been rough. It's not just the eleven week marathon campaign, or the series of underwhelming shout-fest debates. For me, as someone who is direly concerned about the fate of our planet, it's the simple reality that among Canada's major political parties none have the courage to put forward a plan that reflects the simple scientific truth about tackling the climate crisis -- fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Since Canada is home to of the world's largest pools of carbon -- the Alberta Tar Sands -- this is a pretty big deal.

All quiet on the science front


Michael Rennie | Canadian Journalists for Free Expression - October 6th 2015

Blog Post: The Canadian public values credible and trustworthy information, and it doesn’t currently believe that our governments are in a position to provide it. A critical means of restoring the public’s trust in government is to provide more transparency into how decisions are made and how various pieces of information are weighed in the decision-making process. Denying government scientists the ability to comment on their own work only makes it look like there’s something to hide, and it suggests that there is neither trust in the scientists who conducted the study to speak objectively, nor in the public to hear what the study has to say from the person most qualified to discuss it.

How Harper triggered a First Nations legal war over Northern Gateway


Mychaylo Prystupa | National Observer - October 6th 2015

Press Clipping: Eight B.C. First Nations are in federal court to launch a legal attack on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The coalition hopes to overturn Ottawa’s conditional approval of the project, which would deliver Alberta crude to B.C.’s north coast. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip pledged to go to jail if necessary to stop the pipeline, and said the federal Conservative government has “completely demonized and vilified Indigenous peoples of this country and has declared all of these [energy] projects in the national interest.”