Tar Sands/Keystone Pipeline

What is it and what’s wrong with it?

Environmental activism group Greenpeace defines North America's Tar Sands as “huge deposits of bitumen, a tar-like substance that’s turned into oil through complex and energy-intensive processes that cause widespread environmental damage.” Tar sand itself is made of clay, sand, water and bitumen, which needs to be refined in an extremely energy- and water-intensive process. To extract the bitumen from the tar sand, huge swaths of the North America's wilderness have been replaced with toxic lakes, open-pit mines, refineries and oil pipelines. Trillions of barrels of oil are locked up in the Tar Sands, yet the extraction of this oil comes at a huge environmental cost. 

There are many problems associated with Tar Sands exploration. Tar Sands exploration and production destroy acres upon acres of land in order to find precious oil reserves. After the crude bitumen is collected, it must be processed, emitting large quantities of potent greenhouse gases. Before the bitumen can be processed it has to get to a processing plant, and this is where the Keystone XL Pipeline comes into play. 

Like most methods of gas and oil extraction and production, utilizing the Tar Sands’ bitumen reserves results in a myriad of dangerous consequences. Some health problems associated with the Tar Sands include respiratory ailments, skin rashes, and most notably, a variety of different cancers. 

The Keystone XL “is a 2,148 mile tar sands crude oil pipeline running from Hardisty, Alberta, through the Dakotas, Nebraska, across Kansas and Missouri and then into Illinois, with a spur into Oklahoma.” The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline extension (Phase 4) will deliver crude bitumen to Texas and the Gulf Coast to fulfill oil demands in that region. It is intended to cross 3,000 miles of land and has the potential to leak bitumen into the soil and water of vast areas of America's farm heartland (Sierra Club). President Barack Obama announced in January 2015 that he would veto any bill that would move forward the proposed Keystone XL pipeline extension. 

What’s being done?

According to former NASA scientist, Dr. James Hansen and environmental activist, Bill McKibben, the Keystone project means "Game Over" for climate change should it go forward.

TarSandsAction.org was/is one of the key players in the anti-Tar Sands movement until they teamed up with Bill McKibben’s 350.org to form the 350.org US Climate Action Team. Bill McKibben is a key leader and spokesperson in the fight to halt climate change and global warming. He is the author of many important books on climate change, society, and the environment. McKibben also leads major environmental protests—especially Tar Sands protests—throughout the U.S., but most notably in Washington, D.C.

Idle No More is a group of indigenous peoples from Canada who are calling upon the public to join them in a “peaceful revolution…to honor Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water.” In particular, the group is committed to the fight against Tar Sands. Find out more here.

Naomi Klein is a Canadian author, journalist and environmental/social activist also fighting the expansion of the Tar Sands. Klein can often be found at Tar Sands protests throughout North America, and writes extensively on the environmental and social damage of the Tar Sands.

What can you do?

-Tell President Obama to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline by signing this 350.org petition!


learn more here:



Sierra Club 

Tar Sands Action




“How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming?” by David Biello, Scientific American (2013)

“Naomi Klein: ‘Big Green Groups are More Damaging than Climate Deniers” by Jason Mark, The Guardian (2013)

Tar-Sands Showdown: The Fight Over the Future of Energy, Interview with Bill McKibben by Brandon Kleim (2011)



Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (Revised and Updated Edition) by Andrew Nikiforuk (2010)

The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of by Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer (2012)

The Pipeline and the Paradigm: Keystone XL, Tar Sands, and the Battle to Defuse the Carbon Bomb by Samuel Avery and Bill McKibben (2013)



A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash (2007)

Carbon Nation (2010)

The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream (2004)


video clips

Blockadia Rising: Voices of the Tar Sands Blockade (2013)

Naomi Klein Debunks Ethical Oil at Tar Sands Action (2011)

Tar Sands Extraction: The Dirty Truth (2011)

The True Cost of Oil: Garth Lenz, Photograher at TEDxVictoria (2012)

To the Last Drop: Canada’s Dirty Oil Sands-Part I and Part II (2011)