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

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


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


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.

Cacouna port dead: What does this mean for opposition to Energy East?

Andrea Harden-Donahue | Council of Canadians - April 2nd 2015

Blog Post: As anticipated, TransCanada has pulled the plug on the controversial Cacouna port that really should never have seen the light of day. Massive export port beside (endangered) beluga whale habitat, with massive tankers plying the St Lawrence? Nope. The reality is opposition in Quebec to the Cacouna port and the Energy East pipeline proposal is diverse and growing.

TransCanada won’t build Quebec oil terminal over beluga concerns


Bertrand Marotte | Globe and Mail - April 2nd 2015

Press Clipping: Environmentalists quickly responded to TransCanada’s decision to abandon plans to build an export terminal for its Energy East pipeline project at Cacouna, Que., a critical St. Lawrence River gathering place for beluga whales. “By abandoning its tanker terminal plans for Cacouna, Quebec, TransCanada has finally admitted Energy East carries major risks for Canada,” Environmental Defence’s Adam Scott said. “If TransCanada is serious about listening, it should move immediately to cancel the Energy East project,” he said, adding that the project is “an export pipeline that has nothing to do with meeting Canadian demand for oil.”

Oilsands companies might be better off not restoring wetlands, U of A ecologist says

Sheila Pratt | Edmonton Journal - March 31st 2015

Press Clipping: The effort to restore wetlands in the oilsands is so weak it might be better abandoned, an ecologist told a water forum Friday at the University of Alberta. Companies are now trying to construct new wetlands on their mine leases, but these have fewer native plants, different chemistry and may in fact pose dangers to wildlife, said Kevin Timoney. Even if the companies are successful, birds, for instance, would be drawn to these constructed wetlands just a few hundred metres from an active mine with power lines and tailings ponds, and that’s not healthy, he said. “Wetland reclamation efforts have failed for years — we are seeing the development of a national sacrifice zone,” he said.

Editorial: Stop crying wolf

Editorial Board | Calgary Herald - February 18th 2015

Press Clipping: The province should stop poisoning and shooting wolves, and instead, train its metaphorical guns on the real culprit in the decline of caribou populations — itself. “This is a true case of scapegoating wolves for something that we’re all responsible for. There’s no effort to address the ultimate causes of caribou endangerment — industrial development over numerous years,” said eminent wolf specialist Paul Paquet.

Fall Guys

Jason Bittel | OnEarth - February 17th 2015

Press Clipping: Hervieux’s department within the Albertan government has been killing about 100 wolves per year—via poison bait and helicopter gunmen—since December 2005 to keep caribou populations stable while tar sands development destroys their habitat. “It’s sort of grotesque that the focus is on wildlife that are symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself,” says Carolyn Campbell, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.

Pipeline peril: Tar Sands expansion and the threat to wildlife in the Great Lakes region

December 17th 2014

Blog Post: The health and future of the Great Lakes region, which provides drinking water to millions of people, is at grave risk from tar sands oil pipeline expansions, according to a new report by the National Wildlife Federation. "Pipeline Peril: Tar Sands Expansion and the Threat to Wildlife in the Great Lakes Region" explains the incredibly high risk and direct threat involved for wildlife and people of the Great Lakes region if pipeline expansions continue.