|Canada's Tar Sands
Why are the Tar Sands so Destructive?
Tar sands operations exact a terrible toll on Alberta's landscape.
Tar sand is dug in huge open-pit mines. To dig these mines, Boreal forest is clear-cut, rivers and streams are diverted, wetlands drained and wildlife removed.
Extracting and refining oil from tar requires massive amounts of energy and water. According to the Pembina Institute, four tons of soil is dug and up to four barrels of water consumed for each barrel of bitumen recovered, and six barrels of toxic tailings are produced.
Because so much natural gas is used to turn the tar-like bitumen into synthetic crude oil, tar sand production is a major contributor to Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.
Toxic Tailings Ponds
A million cubic metres of water is diverted from the Athabasca River to tar sands operations each day. Most of the water ends up as waste in toxic ponds near the river's banks. Nearly a dozen tailings ponds line both sides of the Athabasca River and pose a serious threat to the entire Mackenzie River basin. Many are already leaking and creating their own tainted wetlands. The ponds, which contain a thick mix of water, oil and clay, give off a strong aroma of hydrocarbons and rarely freeze. Fish, birds and other wildlife face death from swimming in or drinking from the ponds.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers reports that of 25 chemicals found in every tailings pond and studied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 14 are human carcinogens.
According to Environmental Defence Canada, the ponds are leaking over 11 million litres a day of contaminated water into the environment, which is equivalent to over 4 billion litres a year.