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


TransCanada vastly exaggerating Energy East’s ability to reduce overseas oil imports

Publication | October 29, 2014 at 7:17

By repeating false information, TransCanada is misleading Canadians and investors in a desperate attempt to justify its Energy East pipeline and tanker proposal.

Economics of Transporting and Processing Tar Sands Crudes in Quebec

Publication | June 2, 2014 at 8:11

This report examines the economics of transporting and processing Alberta tar sands crudes in Quebec. In particular, we focus on the benefits and costs to Quebec of these activities, and address the widespread uncertainty and disagreement as...

Harper’s Shell Game

Publication | July 23, 2012 at 8:54

Why Tar Sands Pipelines Are Not in Canada’s National Interest.

Deep Trouble: The reality of in situ tar sands operations

Publication | April 7, 2011 at 10:14

In an effort to distance themselves from the powerful, but negative, images of open-pit mining in the Alberta tar sands, many oil companies are now touting the advantages of their in situ (or underground) operations.


Publication | April 1, 2011 at 15:19


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