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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

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board's response to John Bennett


Recently, Sierra Club Canada learned that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) is investing $250 million of Canadians' money into the tar sands. Our Executive Director wrote the CPPIB a letter, asking them to account for fueling catastrophic climate change. Here is their response.

Dear Mr. Bennett,

Re: CPP Investment Board's Consideration of Environmental Risks

Thank you for your letter dated July 7, 2010 regarding the CPP Investment Board's (CPPIB) approach to environmental risks.

By way of brief background, the CPPIB's mandate, as set out in our legislation, is to maximize the investment rate of return for the CPP Fund without undue risk of loss. Our long-term goal is to contribute to the financial strength of the CPP to help sustain the future pensions of 17 million Canadian contributors and beneficiaries.
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Green Jobs

Greenpeace has been a vocal opponent of Alberta’s reliance on oil, publicizing and protesting Alberta’s environmental track record. In 2007, our province produced over 240 million tonnes of greenhouse gas — about 50 million tonnes more than Ontario — which gives us the dubious distinction of Canada’s most prolific polluter (goes well with our “Texas of Canada” moniker).

But look right and you’ll see the inevitable counter-argument: for starters, it would be wildly unrealistic to expect anything close to closure of the oil sands. Oil drives Alberta’s economy. Currently, the fossil fuel extraction industry directly employs nearly 150,000 Albertans with high-paying jobs, not to mention the fact that the oil and gas industry accounts for 30 per cent of Alberta’s GDP.

Additional excerpt:
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A letter to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board

I just learned the Canada Pension Plan has invested $250 million in a tar sands plant so I have written David Denison, President and CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, to share my thoughts. You should too.

Dear Sir,

I read with dismay that my contribution to the Canada Pension Plan will be used to fuel catastrophic climate change. I presume this is a strategy to reduce future benefit payments by shortening the life span of Canadians. The stress alone from droughts, floods and extreme storms will have a devastating effect.

I can understand the potential benefits for my surviving children and grandchildren, but I would rather everyone live to a ripe old age.

I also wonder how you could be so oblivious to the urgency of the climate crisis that you do not realize burning fossil fuels - however profitable - causes climate change.
... Read more »

Sierra Club Intervenes to Block New Oil Sands Project

The Sierra Club has appealed to the Alberta energy agency to block approval of the Joslyn North Mine, which oil giant Total Canada wants to develop.

Sheila Muxlow, director of the group's Alberta chapter, said the project is going to "take us further in the wrong direction." The Sierra Club, founded by conservation John Muir in 1892, is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in North America.

Additional excerpt:

Total's Joslyn's proposal will be heard before the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), an independent agency that regulates Alberta's energy resources, on September 21. The Sierra Club had asked the firm to answer questions on the project's impact on water quality and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as Aboriginal treaty rights for the region.

Premier defends oilsands in letter to Washington

Alberta's premier has fired the latest shot in what has been dubbed the mother of all public relations battles.

A letter written by Ed Stelmach defending the oil sands is being published by the Washington Post.

Additional excerpt:

Sierra Club Canada takes offence to the letter, which is claims is just another Alberta Government smoke screen.

A spokesperson says the overall perception of the oil sands outside of Alberta is not good and some cheering from the sidelines by the premier is not going to change that.


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