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


Tar sands destruction hits home, but the world stands UP!

Blog entry by Melina Laboucan-Massimo | June 18, 2011 1 comment

The impact of the tar sands really hit home for me last month, when a pipeline ruptured, in what was one of the largest oil spills in Alberta’s history only 7 km from where my family lives. Over 28,000 barrels of oil from a pipeline...

The Spin Doctor’s Last Stand: TINA in the Tar Sands

Blog entry by Keith Stewart | June 15, 2011

The claim that “There Is No Alternative” is a clever way to try to shut down debate when one is forced to defend an ethically-challenged position. So it’s no surprise to see it popping up so consistently in the talking points of tar...

Greenpeace demands action on abuse of activists in Calgary Remand Centre

Feature story | June 14, 2011 at 11:33

Calgary — Greenpeace today called for an investigation into the abuse of Greenpeace activists last summer by Correctional Peace Officers in the Calgary Remand Centre.

The Lubicon Cree: A history of human rights abuses on Canada's watch

Blog entry by Melina Laboucan-Massimo | June 10, 2011 2 comments

In the face of the massive forest fires and one of the largest oil spills in Canada’s history, the people of Little Buffalo — the community nearest to the oil spill, and the community where I’m from — continues to deal with the...

Canada’s diplomatic spanking at UN hides deeper problems

Blog entry by Keith Stewart | June 9, 2011

Canada’s representatives at the UN climate meeting in Bonn got raked over the coals today for failing to meet our Kyoto target, offloading the burden of dealing with climate change to developing countries and only having in place...

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