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Tar Sands 101

How Dirty and Expensive Oil from Canada
Threatens America's New Energy Economy

For the sake of profits, Big Oil is seeking out ever more remote and more polluting sources of oil. The largest of those dirty and expensive sources is known as tar sands -- or oil sands (the two terms are synonymous) -- and is undergoing a reckless expansion in Alberta, Canada, that is arguably the largest and most destructive project on earth.

Global Warming Pollution

  • Mining oil from tar sands creates three times more carbon emissions than conventional oil extraction
  • Tar sands mining also destroys Canadian boreal forest, reducing the Earth's natural ability to capture carbon, as well as destroying the habitat of nesting birds

Undermining the Transition to a Clean Energy Economy

  • Given the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation (up to 30% of our total emissions), we cannot allow transportation fuel to derive from tar sands
  • Importing tar sands oil would lock us into our oil addiction for decades, canceling out many of the gains from fuel economy standards, and jeopardizing our transition to a clean energy economy

A Rubber Stamp for the Oil Industry

  • Tar sands companies are cutting corners and pushing for the same type of safety waivers that we've seen with the BP Gulf oil disaster
  • Big Oil wants to pump tar sands oil through a massive pipeline at pressure that exceed the normal limits and through thinner pipes and have failed to outline a public emergency plan

The Sierra Club's tar sands Initiative seeks to:

  1. Broaden public awareness of tar sands oil and build public outcry
  2. Delay and stop infrastructure
  3. Promote legislation and regulation that discourage high carbon fuels and encourage clean energy


Boreal forest


Open-pit tar sands mine

Photos: Peter Essick/National Geographic

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