Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace


Posted by strattof on August 25, 2011

“After the ice is gone, would Earth proceed to the Venus syndrome, a runaway greenhouse effect that would destroy all life on the planet, perhaps permanently? While that is difficult to say based on present information, I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.”–Dr James Hansen, NASA climate scientist, from Storms of My Grandchildren


Oilsands Quest, a Calgary-based company, already has a lease on 651,565 acres in north western Saskatchewan. It plans to start developing Saskatchewan’s first commercial tar sands project in the very near future.


In early 2011, having discovered that Canada’s tar sands are viewed as an environmental scourge outside of the country, the Canadian government began to promote tar sands oil as “ethical oil.” As Prime Minister Stephen Harper put it, “Canada is a very ethical society and a safe source for the United States in comparison to other sources of energy.”

 But there is nothing ethical about tar sands oil. Indeed, it is an environmental, human, and ethical catastrophe.  


  • Tar sands production generates as much as 20% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. It accounts for 5% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the single biggest contributor to the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
  • It takes 3-7 barrels of water to produce a single barrel of oil. That’s between 230-530 million cubic metres a year.
  • Enough natural gas is used in the tar sands every day to heat 3.2 million Canadian homes for 24 hours. That’s over 25% of Canadian homes.
  • The tar sands are carving huge gashes in the world’s largest intact forest, which serves as a vital absorber of carbon dioxide.  The tar sands are the source of the 2nd fastest rate of deforestation on the planet.
  • The tar sands generate 6,500 barrels of toxic waste every day. This waste is stored in massive unlined tailings ponds that occupy 140 square km of forest along the Athabasca River. These ponds of toxic sludge are so poisonous that birds which accidentally land on them die instantly.


These toxic ponds leak into the Athabasca River at a rate of at least 11 million litres a day. As a result, the river’s levels of toxic chemicals, which include arsenic, cyanide, and naphthenic acids, are steadily rising.

At Fort Chipewyan, a downstream First Nations community, the increase in cancer is 30% higher than in other communities, an increase that coincided with the development of the tar sands. 

In the tar sands region, workers and local residents breathe in pollutant emissions, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and benzene. In 2009, tar sands companies breached Alberta’s air pollution targets 1,556 times or more than 4 times every day.

The federal government subsidizes the tar sands industry to the tune of $1 billion per year.


Two pipelines have been proposed to expand Canadian tar sands exports. One, TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to oil refineries in Texas. The other, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, would carry tar sands oil to the BC coast for shipment to Asia. The Canadian government supports both projects.     

A major concern of those who oppose the pipelines are land and water contamination resulting from pipeline leaks. Although TransCanada claims its pipelines are safe, its first Keystone pipeline, constructed in 2010, has already had 12 leaks in 12 months.

An even greater concern is the further expansion of Canadian tar sands, the source of the world’s most carbon-laden oil. Tar Sands Action, the group organizing the “Stop the Keystone Pipeline” sit-in currently taking place at the White House, puts it this way: Such pipelines are “a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.” In other words, our only chance of stabilizing the climate is to leave the tar sands in the ground.   

“Oil has never been about ethics. It has always been about money. Those who argue the case for ‘ethical oil’ should work to ensure that our energy needs are met in a truly ethical way, now and into the future. In the end, the only truly ethical solution is to phase out oil.” –David Suzuki




  1. heat said


    […]TAR SANDS: CLIMATE TIPPING POINT « Making Peace Vigil[…]…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: