WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 20, 2010) – As the oil spill disaster in the Gulf deepens, Canada's oil industry is taking advantage of the catastrophe to offer its dirty oil as an alternative to offshore drilling. A report released this week crushes that myth, Tar Sands Invasion: How Dirty and Expensive Oil from Canada Threatens America’s New Energy Economy, details the enormous financial and environmental costs associated with what has been termed the largest and most destructive project on the planet.
"Right now in the Gulf we're witnessing the effect dirty oil has on American communities, jobs, wildlife, and oceans. Bringing the world's dirtiest oil into the United States in the wake of the BP disaster is asking for trouble," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "If we allow new tar sands pipelines into the U.S., we will chain our nation to one of the most wasteful and destructive forms of oil on the planet."
The new report from Corporate Ethics International, Earthworks, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club is a primer on tar sands and the sticky energy issues this dirty fuel raises.
Proposals for a major pipeline to bring tar sands oil into the United States are currently under review by the Obama administration, with a public comment deadline ending June 16. Allowing the Keystone XL pipeline into the country would lock America into a dirty energy infrastructure for decades to come.
Tar sands deposits are found primarily under Alberta’s Boreal Forest and wetlands in an area about the size of Florida. Millions of acres of pristine forest and wildlife habitat are strip-mined and drilled to access the dense, tarry, bitumen used to make synthetic crude. Because it requires large amounts of energy, production of tar sands oil is estimated to release at least three times the greenhouse gas emissions per barrel as compared to production of conventional crude oil. In addition to its high carbon costs, tar sands oil production requires two to five barrels of water for each barrel of bitumen extracted, has already created over 50 square miles of toxic waste ponds, threatens the health of downstream indigenous communities, and is likely to cause the loss of millions of migratory birds that nest in the forests and wetlands of the region.
“Importing the dirtiest oil on earth would only perpetuate our addiction to fossil fuels and put our nation at risk,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The best energy security is to break our addiction to oil and move forward with innovative transportation solutions such as electric cars, fuel efficiency and smart growth.”
The rapid rise in energy technology and decline in demand for oil have created a perfect moment for America to become a global leader in the clean energy economy. But the expansion of tar sands oil in the United States undermines these potential advances.
While Americans are largely unfamiliar with the fuel source, 60 percent of the tar sands oil produced in Canada is exported to the United States, and oil companies are aiming to drastically expand production in the coming years. Tar Sands Invasion notes that the sprawling network of pipelines and refineries proposed by the tar sands industry would lock the United States into long-term reliance on this massively polluting fuel source, just as cleaner solutions are coming of age. The report concludes that tar sands investments conflict with efforts to combat global warming and shifting the U.S. transportation sector to cleaner alternatives while bringing pollution to the agricultural heartland and Great Lakes.