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The Dirty Truth about Canada’s Tar Sands Industry

Canada’s Tar Sands are located in the Northern half of the province of Alberta along with some deposits in neighbouring Saskatchewan. Covering a landmass of 140,200 km2, or 54,132 square miles, the deposits span a region the size of the State of New York or 2.5 times the size of Nova Scotia. The tar sands are located in the heart of Canada’s Boreal Forest, a nearly continuous belt of coniferous trees that extends across the country. Home to a diversity of plant and animal species the region is commonly referred to as “the lungs of the planet,” as it is one of the largest carbon storehouse in the world, second only to the Amazon rainforest. The region contains extensive wetlands, including bogs, peatlands and fens. The tar sands region of the boreal forest is the traditional territory of the Dene, Cree and Métis Indigenous people. At an estimated 170 billion barrels, Canada’s tar sands have put the country on the global oil map, making Canada 2nd only to Saudi Arabia for proven crude oil reserves. Since commencement of oil sands extraction, nearly 40 years ago, extraction of the resource has climbed steadily to the 1.31 million barrels per day in 2008. This figure is expected to nearly triple by 2018. Tar Sands oil is destined for the U.S. In 2008, Alberta exported 1.51 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of crude oil to the U.S., supplying 15% of U.S. crude oil imports, or 8% of U.S. oil demand. As of June 2009, there were approximately 5,012 oil sands (mineral rights) agreements with the Province totaling approximately 82,542 km2 (31,870 square miles). This equates to an area that is nearly the size of the state of South Carolina. Close to 41% of possible tar sands areas are still available for leasing.

Our Demands:

It is no exaggeration to call the tar sands one of the most destructive industrial projects in the world. People, animals and the land are dying as we extract the dirty tar sands oil to feed our North American appetite for oil. WE NEED YOUR HELP! CANADIANS MUST NOW, MORE THAN EVER, UNITE TOGETHER AND DEMAND AN END TO TAR SANDS INJUSTICES TODAY! • The Tar Sands must be included in a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions. • The Tar Sands must be subjected to precautionary water quality standards aimed to stop and eliminate elevating levels of Mercury, Arsenic, PAHs and other carcinogenic toxins. • Treaty Rights must be honoured and upheld. First Nations and Métis Communities must be meaningfully consulted and accommodated before any further development decisions are approved. • We are calling for the Canadian and Albertan governments to take the first step and cease new oil sands approvals and lease sales. The time is now to stop the uncontrolled oil sands development and deal with the environmental and social concerns that it has created. • We furthermore urge our Governments to develop an energy policy, which encourages conservation and promotes the use of safe, clean, and renewable energy sources. Together, we can move our Canada beyond the current dirty oil image. It’s time.

Latest Posts

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: ... Read more »

A Toxic Legacy

As of June 2008, 720 million cubic metres of fluid tailings were being stored in Alberta.1

Tailings fluids are toxic to aquatic organisms and pose health concerns for human communities.  Napthenic Acids are the major toxicant in oil sands tailings water.  Other contaminants in tailings include, arsenic, mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Exposure of Naphthenic acid, by mammals, can have significant health impacts (including brain lesions, hemmoraging and liver damage).2  Water affected by processes in the petroleum industries generally contains 40-120 mg /L of Naphthenic acid.  ground water is in the range from 0.4 to 51 mg /L which is considered to be in the range of toxicity to human consumption.3 A few mg/L are often observed in surrounding surface waters, un-impacted by process water.4

Incidences of elevated choloride, napthenic acids and ammonia in groundwater monitoring wells suggest current seepage of toxins into water supplies.5
... Read more »

Tar Sands Development Means...

Alberta’s tar sands are one of the biggest social and ecological challenges in North America, fueling climate change, destroying the northern boreal forest, and drying up our mighty rivers.

With proven reserves of 175 billion barrels, the tar sands are second only to Saudi Arabia in available oil supply. As development continues at an alarming rate, concerns are growing over the impacts on communities and the environment.

Boreal forest destruction

When all the tar sands are developed, they will destroy an area of northern Alberta the size of Florida. In over 40 years of production, not a single piece of land has been reclaimed or restored to government standards by tar sands companies.

Global warming acceleration

As one of the dirtiest oil projects in the world, the tar sands are the single largest contributor to Canada's growing global warming pollution and are one of the main reasons the Canadian government refuses to meet its international obligations to fight the climate crisis.

Environmental injustice

Indigenous and Northern communities downstream are being poisoned by toxic water and fumes.... Read more »

Tar Sands, Environmental Justice & Health

Human health depends on a healthy environment.  When the environment becomes contaminated, we feel the impacts in the form of increases in the rate of disease and infection. Economically and socially marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by these impacts because too often they are the communities closest to the sources of health risks, such as toxic waste sites of tar sands developments. Oil sands development is having severe negative effects on the health of communities in Alberta, in particular the traditional stewards of the lands, the first nations of northern Alberta.

The Facts:... Read more »

Tar Sands and Global Warming

Global warming is a worldwide concern considered one of the greatest threats facing our planet today. It will have detrimental impacts on human health, wildlife, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and our economy. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human activity is the primary driver of global warming. Despite this, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and Canada is contributing to further climate change.

The Facts: ... Read more »


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