In the Canadian Boreal forest just downstream of the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains are the Canadian tar sands. The region contains some 2 trillion barrels of oil, but getting to it will mean destroying an area larger than the state of Florida.
Tar sands consist of heavy crude oil mixed with sand, clay and bitumen. Extraction entails burning natural gas to generate enough heat and steam to melt the oil out of the sand. As many as five barrels of water are needed to produce a single barrel of oil.
Our task is simple: redirect the $70-100 billion dollars the United States is set to invest in tar sands infrastructure into research and development of sustainable energy alternatives such as electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and solar and wind energy.
The Tar Sands and Climate Change
Tar sands oil is the worst type of oil for the climate, producing three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil because of the energy required to extract and process tar sands oil.
- Increased greenhouse gas emissions associated with tar sands development is the main reason Canada will not meet its Kyoto reduction commitments.
- In 2010, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are projected be nearly 35 percent higher than 1990 levels.
Health and Environmental Effects of the Tar Sands
Across the United States, oil refineries are seeking permits to expand their facilities to process heavy crude oil from the tar sands. Processing tar sands oil will mean more asthma and respiratory diseases, more cancer, and more cardiovascular problems. Many local communities are opposing the expansions.
In Canada, the toxic burden on communities near the tar sands is already enormous. In addition to direct human exposure, oil contamination in the local watershed has led to arsenic in moose meat—a dietary staple for First Nations peoples—up to 33 times acceptable levels. Drinking water has also been contaminated.
The alternative is simple: we need to break our addiction to oil and fossil fuels. We could be on the road to a new energy future if we simply redirect the investment capital slated for the tar sands into sustainable alternatives. Heightened investments in clean energy also mean the creation of new green jobs. We need to stop investing in dirty fossil fuels and start funding the future.