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


Memo to Premier Redford: What a real carbon price looks like

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | April 18, 2013 1 comment

Twenty two organizations, representing a broad cross section of society from environmental and landowner groups to First Nations, called on Alberta to be a true climate leader today in an open letter to Premier Redford. They...

What is the Alberta government trying to hide on Suncor spill?

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | April 15, 2013

If you wanted to update the public about the toxicity results from a 2,200 barrel pipe rupture on Suncor’s tar sands facility, how and when would you do it? If you answered “I’d post it on an obscure blog on Friday afternoon ”,...

Over 40 groups now looking for answers from Alberta government on Suncor spills

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | April 3, 2013 3 comments

A mounting number of groups are petitioning Alberta’s Minister of the Environment Diana McQueen for answers regarding two spills from tar sands giant Suncor Energy.  The letter comes just over a week after eleven groups sent an...

Another tar sands spill you never heard about

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | April 2, 2013

As we still wait for very basic answers regarding the Suncor burst pipe that for 10 hours spewed toxic water into the Athabasca river, the Government of Alberta released information late Thursday of another startling toxic incident...

Suncor Toxic Spill: A ten hour disaster

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | March 28, 2013

Yesterday night Suncor admitted that for 10-hrs on Monday, March 25 th its pipe gushed, releasing toxic, chemically treated water into the environment and the Athabasca river, the drinking water supply for countless animals, birds and...

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