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


Prime Minister Harper stars in winning entry in Greenpeace CAPP ad jamming contest

Feature story | May 25, 2011 at 7:11

Greenpeace has unveiled the winning entry in its Put a CAPP on Tar Sands Greenwashing contest to culture jam pro-tar sands ads by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

Major European investors support Greenpeace/WWF anti tar sands motion at Statoil AGM

Feature story | May 20, 2011 at 11:02

Major European investment funds and banks today spoke out against Statoil’s contentious presence in the Alberta tar sands by supporting a motion at the company’s AGM in Norway and citing economic and sustainability concerns.

Forest fires in Alberta threaten community already hit by oil spill

Blog entry by Melina Laboucan-Massimo | May 15, 2011

Reaction of  Melina Laboucan Massimo, member of the Lubicon Cree and Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner, to today's announcement that clean up operations at the massive Rainbow Pipeline oil spill near Little Buffalo were...

Statoil admits their tar sands investments only make sense in a world with dangerous...

Blog entry by Keith Stewart | May 13, 2011

The Norwegian state-owned oil company Statoil just released a Report Card for their in situ tar sands operations, and it was an eye-opener. The factoid that will probably get most of the attention is that they are producing a...

Full disclosure of problems with Rainbow pipeline needed because of past failures

Feature story | May 6, 2011 at 15:05

Little Buffalo, Alberta – Greenpeace is calling on the Alberta government to release all the information it has on the Rainbow Pipeline following the leak last Friday on 4.5 million litres of oil and in light of a spill of 1 million litres from...

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