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


The Pathway to Climate Leadership is Paved with Solar Not Tarsands

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | June 25, 2015

Dear Premier Rachel Notley, I wanted to start by commending you for supporting the call for an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women . We have lost too many of our sisters, mothers, and friends with no explanation and...

Why it’s not too Late to say #ShellNo and Toast the Coast

Blog entry by Jesse Firempong | June 16, 2015

Jane Fonda delivered a powerful speech she penned herself on the need to end extreme oil to save the planet and create a liveable future for future generations to thousands of people Saturday, June 13th at Jericho Beach, Vancouver. ...

Top scientists want tar sands development stopped

Blog entry by Mary Ambrose | June 10, 2015

Today more than 100 prominent scientists from across North America, including climate scientists, economists, geophysicists, and biologists, released a consensus statement entitled “ Ten Reasons for a Moratorium ” that shows why Canada...

G7 leaders give fossil fuels an end date: but time to transition is now

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | June 8, 2015

Today the G7 committed to eliminating the use of the fossil fuels by the end of the century . The commitment might have been stronger if it wasn’t for the lobbying of Canada and Japan who continue to be obstacles to progress on the...

Forest fires shutting tar sands operations: the carbon price we’re already paying

Blog entry by Keith Stewart | May 27, 2015

My head just about exploded from the cognitive dissonance of oil industry executives warning the new NDP government in Alberta that ‘ now would be an inappropriate time to introduce a new tax on carbon ’, even as they are telling their...

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