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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Overview:
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

Syncrude faces protection order after heron deaths in northern Alberta

Bobe Weber | Canadian Press - August 12th 2015

Press Clipping: Oilsands giant Syncrude is facing an environmental protection order following the deaths of 30 great blue herons at one of its sites. “It’s guidance to the company,” Alberta Energy Regulator spokesman Bob Curran said Tuesday. “We’re specifying what our expectations are, what information we expect the company to deliver and in what time frame.”

Thirty blue heron found dead: First Nation alarmed at continued mismanagement in tar sands region

Feature

Editors | Tar Sands Solutions - August 11th 2015

Blog Post: On the heels of last month’s pipeline spill, the largest oil spill in Canadian history, the Athabasca oil sands is now in the throes of responding to the deaths of 30 blue heron. The blue heron, a species listed as ‘special concern’ under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, were found earlier this week at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake Facility. The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) asserts these incidents demonstrate the poor oversight and management in the region that is contributing to the degradation of the rights and title of the First Nation.

Oilsands pipeline projects look doomed after Nexen oil spill leaves two football fields of black goo

Feature

Rebecca Penty and Robert Tuttle | Bloomberg News - July 28th 2015

Press Clipping: It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get oilsands pipeline projects off the ground, and Alberta’s worst spill since 1980 will probably make it tougher. A rupture in a line operated by Nexen, a unit of China’s Cnooc Ltd., spewed 31,500 barrels of bitumen, waste water and sand into the bog-like muskeg of the province’s north this month, igniting outrage from communities along pipeline routes.

Many rebuilt wetlands in oil sands region are contaminated and risky to wildlife

Feature

Sheila Pratt | Edmonton Journal - July 15th 2015

Press Clipping: Rebuilding wetlands in the oilsands region is failing, with many man-made sites contaminated and risky to wildlife, says a new book by Alberta ecologist Kevin Timoney. “A damaged and contaminated landscape, a national sacrifice zone, is being created,” Timoney warns in his book, Impaired Wetlands in a Damaged Landscape, released last month.

Report highlights inadequacy of tar sands remediation funding

Jennifer Skene | NRDC - July 15th 2015

Blog Post: Alberta's tar sands regulations are once again under scrutiny after a report from Alberta's Auditor General indicated that the province may not be adequately enforcing its program for funding the environmental cleanup of tar sands mines. The Auditor General's report is only the latest evidence to the contrary and makes the continued expansion of the tar sands industry even more troubling. A 2013 report showed that Alberta enforces less than 1% of the tar sands industry's violations of environmental regulations.

Oilsands cleanup may not be adequately funded: Alberta AG

Bob Weber | CP - July 7th 2015

Press Clipping: Alberta's auditor general says the province may not be requiring oilsands companies to save enough money to ensure their gigantic mines are cleaned up at the end of their life. "If there isn't an adequate program in place to ensure that financial security is provided by mine operators ... mine sites may either not be reclaimed as intended or Albertans could be forced to pay the reclamation costs," says a report released Monday by Merwan Saher.

Truth and Reconciliation recommendations could change ‘business-as-usual’ in energy sector

Feature

Derek Leahy | Desmog Canada - June 5th 2015

Press Clipping: Six years of research and thousands of survivor testimonies led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to conclude residential schools were central to a century-long Canadian government indigenous policy that “can best be described as 'cultural genocide.’” The commission’s 94 recommendations are intended to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. If implemented by the federal government, the recommendations would bring changes to key policy areas such as education, healthcare and justice. The recommendations could also change business-as-usual in the energy sector.

Great Lakes citizens rally for clean energy for wildlife, not risky tar sands

Feature

Mike Shriberg | NWF - June 2nd 2015

Blog Post: On June 6, thousands will gather in the Twins Cities to express concern over expanded tar sands transportation through the Great Lakes region. Too much toxic and nearly impossible to clean up tar sands oil is already entering our region. The area has seen ill effects like the massive 2010 spill into the Kalamazoo River and piles of dirty, polluting coal-like petroleum coke piling up near refineries. With the U.S. State Department giving backroom approval for a near doubling of the amount of tar sands entering the region primarily along the Alberta Clipper line, it’s time for a clean energy future.