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Alberta Tar Sands, Canada


The Tar(Oil)Sands are the largest proven reserves outside of Saudia Arabia, but mired in sand, this source is the least efficient(only profitable when oil is >$100USD/ barrel), most destructive(2 tonnes of earth moved per barrel and 1.8 billion litres of toxic tailings waste water daily), and dirtiest(single highest source of GHG in Canada- more than entire domestic car fleet) source of oil in the world. This has destroyed huge portions of the Boreal Forest(important carbon sink), killed migrating birds and caribou herds, and toxics leaching from tailings ponds and air pollution has caused a 30% increase in cancers from 1995-2006 in local indigenous communities.

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Alberta Tar Sands, Canada
State or province:Alberta
Location of conflict:Fort MacMurray, Fort Chipewayn
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Tailings from mines
Oil and gas refining
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Alberta tar sands under 4.3 million hectares of Boreal forest, hold 175-300 billion barrels of crude bitumen in the sand, and are between 3.2-4.5 times as carbon intensive to extract as regular oil. 12,000 tones of toxic particulate released into the air and water annually contain Mercury, Arsenic, polycyclic aromatic compounds, heavy metals, and other carcinogenic toxins, causing numerous diseases. Reclamations on the tailings ponds and disrupted ecosystems have been marginal (less than 300 sq km), and the federal government has released documents which question whether rehabilitation is even possible given the levels of toxicity and high costs, for which inadequate funds have been saved at the provincial level, representing a significant environmental and financial risk. Losses of wetlands, habitat, and the carbon sink of the boreal forest (second only to the Amazon in size) are other concerns not adequately understood at this time. The tar sands represent the fastest-growing source of GHG emissions in Canada, with Gov of Canada estimates of 31 million tons of GHG emissions in 2005, scaling up to 92 million tones per year by 2020.

Project area:4300000
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectTrillions USD
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:150000
Start of the conflict:1967
Company names or state enterprises:Athabasca Oil Sands Corp from Canada
Chevron Polska Energy Resources Sp. z o.o. from United States of America
Baytex Energy Trust from Canada
Bonavista Energy Trust from Canada
British Petroleum (BP) from United Kingdom
Legacy from Canada
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNR) from Canada
Canadian Oil Sands Trust from Canada
CanWest Petroleum Corp from Canada
Cenovus Energy Inc from Canada
INPEX Corporation from Japan
Connacher Oil and Gas Ltd from Canada
ConocoPhillips China Inc. (COPC) from United States of America
Devon Energy Corp from United States of America
Enbridge Inc from Canada
EnCana Corp from Canada
Enerplus Resources Fund from Canada
ExxonMobil Corporation (Exxon) from United States of America
Harvest Energy Trust from Canada
Husky Oil Operations Ltd. from Canada
Shell Canada Limited from Canada
Inter Pipeline Fund from Canada
Kinder Morgan from United States of America
Koch Resources LLC from United States of America
Korea National Oil Corp from Republic of Korea
Marathon Oil Corp from United States of America
Statoil from Norway
Sinopec (China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation) from China
Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) from Netherlands
Petro-Canada from Canada
JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp from Japan
Occidental Petroleum (OXY) from United States of America
Total SA from France
Relevant government actors:Various agencies and ministries in Government of Alberta and Government of Canada, Also the Municipality of Fort McMurray
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace, Environmental Defence, Indigenous Environmental Network, International Treaty Organization, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, Concerned Scientists, David Suzuki Foundation, NRDC, org, Amnesty International, Canadian Wilderness Commitee, Ducks Unlimited, etc.
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsLosses of wetlands, habitat, and the carbon sink of the boreal forest (second only to the Amazon in size) are other concerns not adequately understood at this time. Wildlife in the region has been heavily affected: systematic kill-offs to cull problem black bears and wolves, pollution affecting migration patterns and health of numerous bird species, and caribou herds have been declining by more than 70% since 1996. Gov of Canada estimates of 31 million tons of GHG emissions in 2005, scaling up to 92 million tones per year by 2020.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Infectious diseases, Deaths
Other Health impactsResearch released in 2009 estimated that 12,000 tones of toxic particulate (Mercury, Arsenic, polycyclic aromatic compounds, heavy metals, and other carcinogenic toxins) are dispersed into the air and water annually from the bitumen up-graders of the 2 largest tar sands operators. Downstream indigenous populations are experiencing increased respiratory diseases, cardiovascular problems, renal failure, lupus, diabetes and rare cancers, suspected to be caused by toxics leaching from tailings ponds and air pollution. Provincial health authorities acknowledged a 30% increase in cancers from 1995-2006 in the community of Fort Chipewyan.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights
Other socio-economic impactsRampant hyper-inflation and infrastructure overload in the local communities.
Bringing in temporary foreign workers who operate with fewer rights, oversight, and are regularly injured and intimidated.
Lack of housing has created tent cities of working homeless in a severely cold environment.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Proposal and development of alternatives:To halt further developments pending better oversight and accountability. To raise the standards and create more stringent health protections. To close existing projects to protect against further aggravating climate change.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despide numerous legal claims, Treaty issues, enormous international outcry, and even pleas from the municipality to put a moratorium on new approvals so they could deal with the overloaded infrastructure, the Canadian Government is determined to expand the Oil Sands exponentially in the next 20 years.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

EIAs, Provincial and Federal regulations regarding water and land use, as well as pollution.

Recently calls for improved oversight and accountability have been formally made regarding poor water quality monitoring and pipeline testing, leading to failures and improper use in a staggering number of cases.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Pipelines and Salmon in Northern BC, Pembina Institute, 16.10.09.
[click to view]

Gov of Canada, Office of the Privy Council Memorandum, Pg 4
[click to view]

Oil Sands Development: A Health Risk Worth Taking? D.J.Tenenbaum, Environ Heath Perspect. 2006
[click to view]

Mining vs. In Situ, Pembina Institute Report, 2010.
[click to view]

Oil Sands Development contributes to PACs to Athabasca River, Kelly, Schindler et al. 2009.
[click to view]

[click to view]

[click to view]

of FNs opposed to Enbridge March 2012.pdf
[click to view]

Cancer Incidence in Fort Chipewyan, AB 1995-2006. AB Cancer Board, 2009.

West Coast Environmental Law, 12.03.2012.

Northern Gateway Project Federal Environmental Assessment Team Meeting documents, 25.11.2010.
[click to view]

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations and the Tar Sands,
[click to view]

[click to view]

Save the Caribou Stop the tar sands, The Co-operative, 2010.
[click to view]

Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk
[click to view]

Groups launch campaign calling for independent review of pipeline safety, Calgary Herald, 26.6.2012.
[click to view]

[click to view]

Syncrude guilty in 1600 duck deaths in toxic pond, Reuters, 25.06.2010.
[click to view]

EU delays decision on whether oil sands crude more harmful to environment, The Star, 23.02.2012
[click to view]

[click to view]

- excellent research institute
[click to view]

Canada in danger of booming tar sands backlash, The Independent, 14.6.2012.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Petropolis - (Trailer)
[click to view]

Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands: The Nature of Things
[click to view]

To the Last Drop
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Larissa Stendie
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:372
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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