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Tar sands

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

Greenpeace is calling the Canadian government to stop the expansion of 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 region. Meanwhile, the thousands of workers brought in by oil companies face the boom and bust cycles of the oil economy rollercoaster.

Tar sands companies want to build new pipelines so that they can expand output in the tar sands. These pipelines would threaten thousands of rivers and streams across the country. The increased tanker traffic required to carry this oil would threaten our coastlines. Oil spills would devastate communities and existing livelihoods that depend on a health environment, while the greenhouse gas emissions from producing and burning the oil would fuel climate change.

We have better alternatives.  

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 and expose the investment risks associated with tar sands development.
  • Working with impacted communities: We reach out to landowners and First Nations affected by the tar sands amplify their voices and stand in solidarity with them.

The latest updates


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...

Open letter to Alberta Environment Minister on Suncor Spill

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | March 27, 2013 1 comment

For more than FOUR hours toxic laden water from a burst pipe at Suncor’s tar sands facility spewed into Alberta’s environment and eventually into the Athabasca river. The government and industry response gave us more questions than...

Greenpeace Counters Environment Minister’s Greenwash

Blog entry by Keith Stewart | March 20, 2013

Greenpeace activists sent a clear message today to the European Union officials attending a speech by Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent: Climate leaders don’t buy tar sands. We undertook this action to show support for...

Stop Harper from spending millions more of your money to greenwash the tar sands

Blog entry by Keith Stewart | March 12, 2013 6 comments

Greenpeace is launching a petition that calls on the Harper government to stop spending millions of tax dollars on ads that greenwash the tar sands and instead direct this money to climate solutions like support for energy efficiency...

Premier Redford: Let's be honest about the tar sands

Blog entry by Mike Hudema | February 28, 2013 2 comments

Dear Premier Redford, As a fellow Albertan who loves this province and its natural environment, I was quite disappointed to read your op-ed in USA Today . One of the main qualities I look for in a leader is honesty. Honesty in...

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