The tar sands and climate change
Alberta’s tar sands produce some of the world’s dirtiest oil - 3-4 times as much greenhouse gas emissions per barrel as the production of regular crude oil.
Thanks to the rapidly rising emissions from the tar sands, upstream oil and gas is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. The tar sands alone spew out more CO2 than all the cars in the country combined.
The tar sands also represent a global threat. According to research by Ecofys, commissioned by Greenpeace International, Canada’s tar sands ranked fifth of the 14th largest carbon intensive projects in the world.
Tailings Ponds at the Alberta Tar Sands
Landlocked in northern Alberta, the tar sands needs access to tidewater via pipelines to allow further expansion and to reach markets in Asia, Europe, USA, etc.. Railway and truck capacity is far too limited to replace pipelines.
Former UN Climate chief Christiana Figueres summarized the work of the scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change when she said, “three quarters of the (world’s) fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground” in order to have a good chance to stabilize the planet’s climate. That means many tar sands projects can simply never be built if humanity is to have a good chance of avoiding catastrophe and Canada is to do its part to address the growing climate crisis.
Not your average oil
Spills will happen – it’s just a matter of when and where. Alberta already averages more than one spill per day. The tar sands produce a heavy form of crude oil that has to be diluted with toxic chemicals, heated and pressurized in order to flow. When a tar sands pipeline spills, the toxic chemicals threaten human health and the spill is nearly impossible to clean up because unlike conventional oil, bitumen sinks in water. Enbridge has spent more than one billion dollars trying to clean up its 2010 tar sands spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Toxic tar sands oil remains in the environment.
A dead, oil-soaked muskrat lies next to the Kalamzoo River
When diluted tar sands oil spills into water, the condensate evaporates, creating a toxic, carcinogenic cloud. Most of the heavy bitumen remains and can sink, coating the bottom of the lake or river with thick goo, making it much more difficult to clean up than a conventional oil spill.