Tar Sands

Tar sands, or oil sands, are a mixture of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, a thick, tar-like form of oil. Worldwide, there are about 2 trillion barrels of tar sands oil, but only the Canadian tar sands in Alberta are in large-scale production. The U.S. is a large consumer of tar sands oil. Production of tar sands oil in Alberta has contaminated vast quantities of water, poisoned downstream communities, destroyed irreplaceable ecosystems, generated huge amounts of greenhouse gases, and created a toxic sacrifice zone the size of some small countries.

  • The Alberta tar sands are the largest industrial project on the planet. They cover an area larger than the state of Florida, are licensed to use twice as much fresh water as the city of Calgary, consume enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes, are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gasses in Canada, and produce over a million barrels of oil per day. [1]
  • The tar sands pose a dire threat to Canada's rivers and lakes. The tar sands consume between 2.5 and 4 barrels of water per barrel of oil. About 90 percent of the water used in the tar sands is discharged into a vast system of toxic tailings ponds. [2] These ponds, which span over 50 kilometers and can be seen from space, are built right on the banks of the Athabasca River and are often held in place only with earthen dykes. Birds that land on the ponds die. The Athabasca River drains into Canada's largest river, the Mackenzie River. In 2003, the Mackenzie River Basin Board warned that the failure of even one pond would be catastrophic for the aquatic ecosystem of the entire Mackenzie River Basin. [3]
  • In 2006, the tar sands generated 63,000 metric tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including, according to a 2008 Environmental Defence report, over 100 tons of benzene. [4] These dangerous toxins, along with heavy metals like arsenic and mercury, are discharged into the Athabasca River. First Nations downstream from the tar sands have reported deformed fish and other wildlife resulting from water contamination. [5] A report by health officials in Alberta found elevated rates of rare cancers and autoimmune diseases in the downstream community of Fort Chipewyan. [6]
  • Tar sands oil is the dirtiest on earth and is one of the largest contributors to the climate crisis. [7] It takes two metric tons of sand to produce one barrel of oil and three to five times more energy per barrel of oil than any other source on earth. As a result, the tar sands generate 40 million metric tons of CO2 per year, more than all the cars in Canada combined. [8] NASA climate scientist James Hansen has warned that continued tar sands mining would be 'essentially game over' for the climate. [9]

 

References:

[1] Desmogblog: "Top Ten Facts About the Alberta Oil Sands." http://desmogblog.com/top-10-facts-canada-alberta-oil-sands-information
[2] ibid.
[3] Hatch, Christopher and Matt Price. "Canada's Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project On Earth." Environmental Defense (2008)
[4] ibid.
[5] ibid.
[6] Chen, Yiqun. "Cancer Incidence in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta 1995-2006." Alberta Cancer Board (2009)
[7] Nikiforuk, Andrew. "Dirty Oil: How the Tar Sands Are Fueling a Global Climate Crisis." Greenpeace (2009)
[8] Hatch, Christopher and Matt Price. "Canada's Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project On Earth." Environmental Defense (2008)
[9] Nikiforuk, Andrew. "Dirty Oil: How the Tar Sands Are Fueling a Global Climate Crisis." Greenpeace (2009)