Tar Sands: Extreme Energy, Extreme Impacts
Once a pristine forest and watershed, the Athabasca River Valley in Northern Alberta has been permanently damaged by extraction of the Tar Sands—large deposits of sludge mixed with sand underneath the Boreal Forest. Despite the profits for large corporations, Tar Sands oil comes with staggering costs. If expansion of production is not sharply curtailed soon, the Tar Sands will become an environmental quagmire the size of Florida.
Meanwhile, US refineries and pipelines are already exposing our communities to the more extreme air and water pollution that comes from turning Tar Sands into transportation fuel. Conventional fossil fuels are bad enough. Fuels made from the Tar Sands have even more extreme impacts.
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The world's dirtiest oil and the companies that are driving its reckless expansion
Many Fortune 1,000 companies based in the US are supporting this horrific environmental destruction and threatening community health by using Tar Sands fuel to ship their products. Some major companies have shown leadership and have taken different actions to reduce the environmental and social impacts – including carbon emissions – that come from fossil-fueled transportation. Check out some facts about the newest examples of the accelerating corporate shift toward a cleaner energy future. Other companies will require a little more encouragement.
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Stopping the new pipelines for Tar Sands
In Canada, the Calgary-based pipeline company Enbridge is threatening to introduce over 225 supertankers to the fragile coast of British Columbia with the proposed Northern Gateway project. The Northern Gateway pipelines would carry Tar Sands oil from Alberta through northern BC to tankers headed for Asian and US markets. This would put the world-renowned Great Bear Rainforest at risk of a catastrophic oil spill.
Opposition is strong and continues to grow: nine Coastal First Nations of BC have declared a tanker ban in their traditional territories; the Union of BC Municipalities passed two resolutions in support of keeping tankers off the coast; the federal Liberal, New Democrat and Green parties have committed to banning oil tankers in the North coast; 80% of British Columbians across all political spectrums support an oil tanker ban; and the current Conservative government refuses to act.
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Undermining the environment
At each step of the process, turning Tar Sands into oil for US fuel undermines the local and global environment. First, the Boreal Forest's rich ecosystem must be ripped open to expose Tar Sands sludge. Then otherworldly trucks as tall as apartment buildings dig up four tons of earth for every one barrel of Tar Sands sludge they extract. Next comes the resource-intensive process of separating the sludge from the sand, and then ‘cleansing’ the sludge of unwanted toxics, requiring huge amounts of water and energy, and producing vast quantities of global warming pollution. For surrounding communities, the process also produces toxic waste: 11 million litres (3 million gallons) a day escape into the surrounding environment.
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A global crisis, a local crisis
Global repercussions aside, the Tar Sands have proven to be an environmental disaster for surrounding communities.
In Alberta, Canada, elevated levels of cancer have appeared in communities downstream from lakes of toxic waste—and downwind of toxic spewing smokestacks—required by current Tar Sands operations.
Tar Sands comes to US communities through pipelines and supertankers to the biggest, dirtiest and most dangerous refineries in North America. When these refineries turn Tar Sands into transportation fuel, US communities are exposed to extremely toxic pollution that is not produced when conventional oil is refined.
US communities are at risk even before Tar Sands arrives at US refineries. Tar Sands is much more corrosive to pipelines than conventional oil and dramatically increases the risk of catastrophic pipeline leaks and toxic spills such as the spill that hit communities in Michigan in the summer of 2010.