Tar Sands and Water

Water is a precious and finite natural resource. Here in Canada, we are fortunate to be surrounded by clean, easily accessible fresh water.  This abundance, however, has let us take our good fortune for granted and we have abused our water through over use and pollution.  The First Peoples of Canada treasured the water as the blood of the earth, and the land as her body.  Continued abuse of the land and water is harming the health of all the earth’s dependants, both human, plant and animal.  In the tar sands, both water quality and quantity are being severely affected throughout the Athabasca watershed.  We must act now to protect the Athabasca and neighbouring rivers, such as the Peace River system.

The Facts:

  • Tar sands development requires an enormous amount of water – current projects remove about 349 million m3 of water from the Athabasca River each year, equivalent to about 140,000 swimming pools or twice the amount of water the City of Calgary uses per year
  • Tar sands’ water allocations accounts for 65% of the water withdrawals from the Athabasca River every year. These water use requirements are resulting in lower water levels in freshwater aquifers, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands
  • Oil sands development is the largest user of groundwater in Alberta
  • Two to four and a half barrels of water are used to produce one barrel of oil
  • For In Situ extraction alone, 24,000 m3 of water will be needed DAILY for steam production and processing
  • Oil sands corporations maintain that their water use is reasonable because they have improving rates of recycling. However, much of the water used ends up in tailings ponds (large pools of toxic water and mining waste).
  • Tailings lakes could leak toxic pollution into the water system having impacts throughout the Mackenzie River Basin, which spans from the tar sands area in the south through to the Arctic Ocean.
  • Some of the water is lost forever when it is injected deep into the earth.
  • The recently released Athabasca Flow Management Framework does not adequately protect the river allowing for significant withdrawals even when the river is at its lowest levels.  No ecosystem objectives were identified for habitat conservation (beyond fish stocks) or water quality in these low flow scenarios.

1. All information on this fact sheet was retrieved from:

 

   The Pembina Institute (2007). www.oilsandswatch.or

 

   Schneider, R. & Dyer, S. (2006). Death by a thousand cuts: Impacts of in situ oil sands development on Alberta’s Boreal forest.

 

   The Pembina Institute & CPAWS: Edmonton

 

   The Sierra Club, Prairie Chapter (2007). www.sierraclub.ca/prairie

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