Vast quantities of oil rich bitumen, or ‘tar sands’ lie under the boreal forests of Alberta in Canada. Oil companies have been aware of this for many years, but until recently left the oil untouched as it was too expensive and difficult to extract.
Tar sands Canada: Tar sands in CanadaHowever, as conventional oil sources dry up, tar sands are becoming increasingly more attractive to the oil companies.
Canada is the international oil industry’s testing ground: if it proves to be commercially viable, then tar sands extraction will expand across the globe. In fact the industry is already creeping into countries including Jordan, Madagascar and the Republic of Congo.
What’s wrong with tar sands?
Tarsands extraction is described as the most environmentally destructive project on earth. It is enormously carbon intensive as the processes involved in extraction produce up to 300% more emissions than conventional oil.
Open pit mining strips away trees from the top layers of the earth leaving gaping open mine pits up to 75 metres deep. However, most extraction is done in situ mining which involves injecting the tarsands with high pressure steam to divide the oil from the sand.
Not only is this process extremely energy and water intensive, but it leaves behind a mix of toxic chemicals, salt, water, silt, clay and hydrocarbons, which can not be released back into the water supply so are left in large toxic lakes. There is strong evidence that these lakes are leaking into the natural water supply, and contaminating local eco-systems.
Violating indigenous peoples’ rights
The livelihoods and rights of Canada’s First Nations communities are being seriously affected by the tarsands industry. Many indigenous people live by hunting, trapping and fishing, and this is being significantly restricted for fear of toxic contamination. In some areas rates of cancer and immune related illnesses have increased and high levels of toxins have been found in local rivers.
An international treaty protects the rights of indigenous people, and requires their consent to new developments such as the tarsands industry, therefore First Nations activists are demanding an injunction against any new developments.
Find out more
UK banks, including the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) have been financing tar sands developments. Find out more about our Clean up RBS campaign.