Getting Informed About How Canada’s Tar Sands Affect the Planet



The tar sands are a funny issue here in British Columbia, Canada. It seems to me that you either have a very strong opinion of them and are in tune with local environmental issues, or you’ve never heard of them at all.

What’s shocking is that our neighboring province’s tar sands are one of the most environmentally devastating industries on the planet. The tar sands (also known as oil sands) is a huge oil resource that until recently was too expensive to drill into. Only in the last few decades with sky rocking oil prices has the Canadian Government found it worthwhile to retrieve the oil from the sands.

In order to do that, the oil must be separated from the mixture in the ground which is made up of clay, water, and solid earth. The oil itself is in the form of bitumen which is exists in a solid or semi-solid state.

There are several reasons why the retrieval of this oil from the ground is so controversial. The process means demolishing whatever is in its way (often times it’s the Boreal Rainforest) so that 2-3 barrels of hot water can be blasted into the ground to separate the mixture and retrieve approximately 1 barrel of oil from the sand. So much water is being used that it’s threatening the existence of the Athabasca River. It’s not water that can be replaced either, since approximately 90% of it ends up in toxic tailing lakes, sitting there waiting for wildlife to land in it.

In addition to the enormous strain it puts on our water supply, the scars on the earth are now visible from space and are permanent (or at least they will be for the next few hundred years). Aboriginals also claim that they were not consulted before their lands were destroyed and lake poisoned.

On top of all that, experts have questioned whether Alberta or Canada is even getting adequately paid through taxes on the oil.

The effects of the tar sands can’t be sufficiently summed up in a blog, so you begin to see how many people in Vancouver and BC don’t completely understand the issue.

However, I can assure you that everyone in Vancouver and Canada has an opinion on the proposed Enbridge/Kinder Morgan pipeline. This is a bit baffling considering that you need to have an understanding of the tar sands to have an educated opinion on the proposals.

We in British Columbia and Canada have to decide if the economic value of increasing oil transportation from Alberta to BC through an expanded pipeline is worth the potential economic value. sums up the proposals our government is debating over:

These massive projects include the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which would cross British Columbia to bring tar sands crude to western ports where it would be shipped to international markets. The Transpacific Trails pipeline would transport fracked unconventional natural gas extracted from the Horn River Basin to Kitimat port for export. These pipelines pose significant threats to the ecologically sensitive lands and waters, as well as to people’s health and livelihoods. As we face a global climate crisis, these massive pipelines represent the wrong way forward.

Here in Vancouver our majestic mountains by the sea are our pride, joy, and are known around the world. The proposed pipelines would mean that half a million barrels would be arriving at our Burrard Inlet every day and would facilitate tar sands expansion by 30%. And this project affects more than Canadians – it affects the US, and the rest of the world as well through the mighty boost the tar sands donate to global warming.

That much oil means a lot of money. So as you can imagine, here in BC we’ve been inundated with advertisements funded by Enbridge and our government praising the economic benefits, while environmental groups have been fighting tooth and nail to talk about the environmental costs.

It’s a battle that has been heating up for some time and it’s only going to get uglier. Canadians need to know the issue thoroughly to make the right decision for our future. However, if this proposal means we’re all going have a thorough understanding of the tar sands, then maybe ironically it’s already worked against the interests of Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

*This is an extremely simply summary of the proposed pipeline and the tar sands. To learn more about the issue check out Greenpeace’s summary of the issue,, or read Stupid to the Last Drop.

About the Author:

Lindsay is a vegan in Vancouver who spends her time cooking, drinking soy lattes, and writing about our relationship with animals.
  • canaduck

    Very helpful explanation of everything.