No Tar Sands
Tar sands oil — even the name sounds bad.
And it is bad. In fact, oil from tar sands is one of the most destructive, carbon-intensive and toxic fuels on the planet. Producing it releases three times as much greenhouse gas pollution as conventional crude oil does. Tar sands oil comes from a solid mass that must be extracted via energy intensive steam injection or destructive strip mining, techniques that completely destroy ecosystems, put wildlife at risk, and defile large areas of land. Finally, when transported by pipeline or rail, it puts communities, wildlife and water supplies in danger of toxic spills that are nearly impossible to clean up.
As the pressure intensifies to produce more tar sands oil, including in the United States, the Center is stepping up to keep it in the ground.
In early 2014 we launched an aggressive, coordinated effort to stop reckless tar sands extraction both in the United States and Canada. Our efforts have targeted cross-border pipeline proposals like Keystone XL and Alberta Clipper, crude-by-rail expansions and burgeoning domestic tar sands projects.
Here's why: Dirty tar sands and other destructive fossil fuel projects pose a huge risk not only to people and wildlife but to the future of a livable planet.
Tar-sands development has already wreaked havoc on the environment and communities in Alberta, Canada —
and companies are racing to expand the industry. In fact, it has become one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in that country. And Canadian oil companies are now bringing their dirty business into the United States.
For more than six years, TransCanada has been trying to build the Keystone XL pipeline — which would transport 800,000 barrels per day from Canada across the American heartland to Texas, where it would most likely be exported. At the same time, TransCanada and other companies like Enbridge and Kinder Morgan are trying to build more pipelines to transport tar sands, and they've started using the dangerous practice of transporting oil by train.
Meanwhile, a Canadian oil company called U.S. Oil Sands is testing tar sands mining to extract the little-known tar sands deposits in eastern Utah, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is moving toward leasing public lands for tar sands development.
More tar sands development means not only deepening the climate crisis, but also putting air, water and wildlife ecosystems at the risk of industrial damage and deadly oil spills. We can't let that happen. That's why the Center is taking action now.
In September 2008 TransCanada filed an application to begin building the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed 1,700-mile pipeline that would transport up to 35,000 gallons of tar sands oil every day from Canada to Texas. Keystone XL would increase our dependence on fossil fuels and directly threaten at least 20 imperiled species — including the San Joaquin kit fox, black-footed ferret and whooping crane — as well as pristine wildlife habitat and a massive Midwest water source. Existing tar sands pipelines have already experienced serious leaks and spills. Keystone 1, the first Keystone pipeline to be built — which was billed by TransCanada as the safest pipeline in the world — spilled 12 times in its first two years of operation, including a 21,000-gallon spill in North Dakota that went undetected by TransCanada but was reported by a local rancher.
Today, more than six years after the application was filed, Keystone XL has yet to be built. The Center has been on the forefront of this fight, echoing the voices of citizens around the country and using legal challenges, peaceful protests and direct action to prevent the construction of what would be a catastrophic symbol of profits over people.
With a little help from Frostpaw the Polar Bear, the Center has followed President Obama all across the country, from Hawaii to Martha's Vineyard, pressuring him to reject the Keystone pipeline and making sure he never forgets what's at stake: the very survival of our planet and ourselves.
Learn more about the Center's work on Keystone XL and how to take action against it.
+ Alberta Clipper and Line 3 Pipelines
The Canadian company Enbridge has taken advantage of the Keystone XL pipeline opposition and delay by greatly expanding its network of pipelines throughout the Midwest. This includes two pipelines that transport dirty tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin: Line 67 — also known as the Alberta Clipper — and Line 3.
The Alberta Clipper pipeline was initially approved in 2009, and Enbridge seeks to significantly expand the amount of tar sands oil that will flow through it. But rather than wait for the ongoing environmental review and permitting processes, Enbridge has hatched an illegal scheme to immediately move forward with the proposed expansion of its pipeline plan.
Enbridge's plot to simply switch the oil to a different pipeline just north of the Canadian border — and then back again to the Alberta Clipper, just south of the border — would nearly double the pipeline's capacity. And this scheme was secretly approved by the State Department in July 2014. The plan could result in up to 33 million gallons of tar sands oil flowing into the U.S. daily — a disaster for our climate.
Enbridge also seeks to replace its Line 3 pipeline with a larger pipeline that would follow a different route through northern Minnesota, threatening lakes, wetlands and wild rice. As with the Alberta Clipper, Enbridge is attempting to avoid environmental review for this new pipeline by labeling the rerouting as merely pipeline “maintenance” that it claims is allowed by its existing presidential permit.
The Center and our allies — including White Earth Nation — have responded by suing the State Department in federal court for approving Enbridge's illegal scheme for the Alberta Clipper expansion, as well as for allowing Enbridge to proceed with replacing Line 3 at the international border without environmental review. Enbridge's secret deal with our own State Department makes a mockery out of the ongoing environmental review process for the proposed Alberta Clipper expansion, further increases the risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the lakes and wetlands of northern Minnesota, and directly contradicts the president's climate agenda.
Transporting oil by train has become a booming industry, to the detriment of communities and wildlife across the US. Crude-by-rail transport has increased 4,000 percent since 2008 and with it oil train derailments, spills and explosions have been on a steep rise. In 2013 oil-by-rail derailments spilled more oil (1.15 million gallons) than in the previous 40 years (1975?2012).
The Center is working to halt this immensely dangerous mode of transporting tar sands oil (often via the high-risk DOT-111 tank cars) through litigation targeted at the lack of safety regulations and out-of-date spill-response plans.
Efforts thus far have included mounting a lawsuit against the approval of an air permit for Global Partners at Albany, which would enable boiler facilities to heat tar sands transferred from trains to barges; suing the EPA and U.S. Coast Guard over their failure to update disaster response plans in light of intensified rail shipments; and pushing for more crucial information to help the public better understand the risks of these dangerous shipments. We've also filed suit against the largest crude-by-rail proposal in California, which would bring 2-mile-long oil trains to Bakersfield each day. We continue to protest numerous other crude-by-rail proposals in the works.
The country's first potential domestic tar sands operation is under development in Utah?s Uintah Basin and the greater Colorado Plateau. There are more than 30 billion barrels total of tar sands deposits in the Uintah Basin, which is also home to two highly imperiled wildflowers, Graham?s and White River penstemons. The Canadian oil company U.S. Oil Sands has started a test site at PR Springs in eastern Utah and, if tests are successful, it plans to expand the operation to cover more than 32,000 acres. At the same time, the Bureau of Land Management ?is considering issuing the first-ever tar sands lease on federal public land in Asphalt Ridge, Utah.
The Center and allies have filed suit against the BLM challenging its failure to comply with the Endangered Species Act prior to deciding whether to open hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands for potential oil shale and tar sands leasing and development — including Asphalt Ridge. Our lawsuit aims to compel the BLM to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered species and the habitat they need to survive and recover.
The Center also teamed up with local partners to organize the one-week Summer for Climate Justice Action Camp in PR Springs, Utah. Seventy-five students, young people and indigenous allies came together to learn first-hand about the threat of tar sands in Utah and practice skills for peaceful direct action.
Get more information on the Center's work around domestic tar sands and oil shale.
No Tar Sands Banner by Center for Biological Diversity using photos courtesy Flickr Commons/Pembino Institute and Garth Lenz.