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. 

This view of the tar sands in Northern Alberta, Canada, is just a small section of one of five huge tar sands mines in the region. (photo: Garth Lenz)

This view of the tar sands in Northern Alberta, Canada, is just a small section of one of five huge tar sands mines in the region. (photo: Garth Lenz)

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

Phase 1 of the Keystone XL pipeline, near Swanton, Nebraska, under construction in 2009. Phase 1 was completed in June 2010. Phases 1, 2, 3a and 3b of the Keystone XL pipeline are now complete. Phase 4 is that which is currently being debated.

Phase 1 of the Keystone XL pipeline, near Swanton, Nebraska, under construction in 2009. Phase 1 was completed in June 2010. Phases 1, 2, 3a and 3b of the Keystone XL pipeline are now complete. Phase 4 is that which is currently being debated.

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.

Bill McKibben, author, environmentalist and founder of 350.org has fought the exploitation of the Tar Sands and Phase 4 of the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead of using fossil fuels, McKibben advocates for the use of clean energy technologies, like wind and solar.

Bill McKibben, author, environmentalist and founder of 350.org has fought the exploitation of the Tar Sands and Phase 4 of the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead of using fossil fuels, McKibben advocates for the use of clean energy technologies, like wind and solar.

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.

Naomi Klein, author, journalist and environmental/social activist is an outspoken critic of using Tar Sands oil as a source of energy. 

Naomi Klein, author, journalist and environmental/social activist is an outspoken critic of using Tar Sands oil as a source of energy.