A proposed 2,000 mile pipeline through America’s heartland would inject America with 900,000 barrels per day of one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet, threatening our communities, our landscape, and our climate. CONFRONTING GLOBAL WARMING Peter Essick/National Geographic
Tar Sands Oil
Big Oil has some big plans to put America’s clean energy future in jeopardy by expanding the production of tar sands oil – one of the most destructive, dirty, and costly fossil fuels. The largest tar sands reserves in the world are located beneath the boreal forest in Alberta, Canada. This forest provides critical habitat for about 50 percent of North America’s migratory birds and some of the largest populations of wolves, grizzly bears, lynx and moose in the world.
Oil companies are digging up this pristine forest to extract the tar sands, leaving behind huge toxic wastelands. To remove the thick black oil from the sand, they heat it using natural gas and wash it using enormous volumes of freshwater. In the process, they create toxic lakes that are so large they are visible from space. Just in 2008, 1,600 migrating ducks drowned after landing in the toxic sludge.
Producing one barrel of tar sands oil requires:
- Extracting at least four tons of earth, half of which is tar sands.
- Contaminating two to four barrels of freshwater to separate the oil from the sand.
- Releasing at least three times more global warming pollution than conventional oil.
Once the thick black oil is removed from the tar sands and processed into a heavy crude oil, it’s ready for delivery. And the primary target is U.S. refineries. The U.S. already imports 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) of tar sands oil and the stage is being set for a drastic increase. The tar sands industry is fast at work building an extensive pipeline network that would deliver this dirty fuel to every corner of our nation. Several pipelines already transport tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. and two new ones have been built in the last few years. But the next one could be a game-changer.
TransCanada, a Canadian pipeline company, has proposed a pipeline called Keystone XL, which would carry up to 900,000 bpd of tar sands oil from operations in Alberta, Canada, more than 2,000 miles to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The pipeline would cut through six American heartland states, including Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Keystone XL would lock the U.S. into a dependence on this dirty fuel and drive a massive expansion of the tar sands operations in Alberta, Canada. Because Keystone XL would deliver tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast, America’s largest oil refining and transport hub, it would effectively open the entire U.S. market and international markets to dirty fuel. The added capacity of Keystone XL and the other two pipelines that have been built recently could more than triple U.S. consumption of tar sands oil. If expansion of tar sands goes unchecked, it will be impossible to reach our goals to reduce global warming pollution.