Tar sands

Aerial view of Syncrude Aurora tar sands mine in the Boreal Forest north of Fort McMurray. © Greenpeace / Jiri Rezac

Greenpeace is calling on oil companies and the Canadian government to stop the tar sands and end the industrialization of a vast area of Indigenous territories, forests and wetlands in northern Alberta.

The tar sands are huge deposits of bitumen, a tar-like substance that’s turned into oil through complex and energy-intensive processes that cause widespread environmental damage. These processes pollute the Athabasca River, lace the air with toxins and convert farmland into wasteland. Large areas of the Boreal forest are clearcut to make way for development in the tar sands, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

Greenpeace is also concerned with the social and health costs of the tar sands. First Nations communities in the tar sands report unusually high levels of rare cancers and autoimmune diseases. Their traditional way of life is threatened. Substance abuse, suicide, gambling and family violence have increased in the tar sands. Meanwhile, the thousands of workers brought in by oil companies face a housing crisis in northern Alberta.

Enbridge Inc.'s tar sands tanker pipeline proposal threatens to allow a 30 per cent expansion in tar sands development. Enbridge's tar sands pipeline would span 1,170 kilometres from Hardisty, Alberta to Kitimat, in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. Over the past decade, Enbridge's own pipelines spilled an average of more than once a week. The pipeline would cross over 1,000 rivers and streams and the Rocky Mountains on the way to B.C.'s pristine coastline. The pipeline would bring more than 200 crude oil tankers through some of the world's most treacherous waters each year.

How Greenpeace works to stop the tar sands

  • Pressuring governments: The governments of Alberta and Canada actively promote tar sands development and ignore international commitments Canada has made to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Through direct action, we draw international attention to government climate crimes in the tar sands and demand change.
  • Educating shareholders: We meet with Canadian and international shareholders in oil companies and discuss the investment risks associated with the tar sands.
  • Working with impacted communities: We reach out to landowners and First Nations affected by the tar sands and stand in solidarity with them.

The latest updates


Nine months and still spilling: A recap of the on-going Cold Lake tar sands spills

Blog entry by mhudema | February 12, 2014 1 comment

It’s been almost nine months. You can do a lot in nine months. In nine months you can make and give birth to a baby. For Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), all they’ve done at their Cold Lake tar sands in-situ site is spill...

Is the Alberta government’s ‘Tar Sands is King’ attitude silencing doctors?

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | February 7, 2014

When we get sick, when we experience symptoms that we’ve never seen before, we rely on doctors to tell us what’s wrong. We rely on their knowledge and training to diagnose our symptoms and tell us how to get better.  When Peace...

Parents beware: Big oil wants your kids

Blog entry by Diego Creimer, communications officer | February 5, 2014 3 comments

Image: D. Gordon E. Robertson / Wikimedia Commons Last weekend, my partner and I decided to take our two kids to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa. It was not our first time there and I knew we were going to see...

Tar sands communities flee homes to escape emissions, panel told

Blog entry by mhudema | February 4, 2014

As the Alberta government was celebrating the State Department analysis into the effects of the KeystoneXL tar sands pipeline, several Peace River residents were at a  hearing talking about the tar sands emissions  that they've been...

There Comes a Time: if Harper pushes through Northern Gateway we must be ready.

Blog entry by mhudema | January 28, 2014

There comes a time when you need to take a stand, when the processes that were designed to protect us have so broken down that we have no choice but to do so. That is quickly becoming the case with Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tar sands...

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