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

Another historic day in the battle to stop the tar sands


Mike Hudema | Greenpeace Canada - November 25th 2015

Blog Post: Today people slowed the beast again but this time we did it at the source. After a string of pipeline victories and over a decade of campaigning on at least three different continents, the Alberta government has finally put a limit to the tar sands. Today they announced they will cap its expansion and limit the tar sands monster to 100 megatons a year (equivalent to what projects already operating and those currently under construction would produce).

Our big moment to show Canadians 100% clean energy is 100% possible


November 25th 2015

Blog Post: Thousands of people have signed up to march in Ottawa on November 29 to send our government leaders to the UN Paris Climate Conference with a clear message: Canadians want bold action on climate change. One hundred per cent clean energy is not only necessary to solve the climate crisis -- it is 100 per cent possible. Support this flagship event by attending a Global Climate march near you.

Lawyers call on the Prime Minister to act on Canada’s obligation to fight climate change

Karine Péloffy | Quebec Environmental Law Centre - November 25th 2015

Blog Post: In an open letter published in Le Devoir, the Quebec Environmental Law Centre (CQDE) invites the Prime Minister to fulfill his legal obligations in regards to the struggle against climate change. Canada has never adopted – much less implemented – binding reduction targets that would sufficiently respond to the international scientific consensus on climate change. Canada has let greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) rise to 18% since the beginning of concerted international action on this cause, to the dismay of many provinces.

Here’s what we know—and don’t know—about Alberta’s carbon tax

Trevor Tombe | Maclean's - November 23rd 2015

Press Clipping: Months of speculation ended Sunday when Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips announced a carbon tax is coming to Alberta. Pricing carbon is one of the most sensible policy prescriptions to address greenhouse gas emissions, so this is good news. But, of course the devil is in the details, so we should explore some of those.

Alberta Premier puts a cap on tar sands development


Kenny Bruno | Corporate Ethics International - November 22nd 2015

Blog Post: They said it was all coming out of the ground "anyway." Not so fast. Alberta Premier Notley formally introduced the Alberta climate package today, including a "legislated" 100 megaton annual cap on emissions from the tar sands. 100 MT is still a lot, but remember that industry has planned for twice that, or more. All the smart work, the hard work, and the persistence has led to a watershed moment for the Tar Sands Campaign.

Alberta climate plan - historic day, more to be done


Keith Stewart | Greenpeace Canada - November 22nd 2015

Blog Post: Today is a historic step for the province of Alberta. After too many years of previous provincial governments heading in the wrong direction and ignoring the problem, we applaud Premier Notley for listening to the growing calls of people across the province and the country demanding action on climate change. The measures announced today will start to slow Alberta’s growing emissions, diversify its economy, create jobs, and allow the province to start taking advantage of its tremendous renewable energy potential. These policies are important first steps, but much bigger emission reductions will be needed for Alberta to do its part to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Alberta’s climate change strategy targets carbon, coal, emissions

November 22nd 2015

Press Clipping: Alberta's climate change strategy includes a tax on carbon, a cap on oilsands emissions, a phasing out of coal-fired electricity and an emphasis on wind power. "Our goal is to become one of the world's most progressive and forward-looking energy producers," said Premier Rachel Notley. "We are turning the page on the mistaken policies of the past, policies that have failed to provide the leadership our province needed."