Not-so-secret ingredient: sugar; secret ingredient: tar sands.

Why tar sands?

When companies use oil from tar sands to fuel their vehicle fleets, they are contributing supporting one of the dirtiest sources of oil on the planet. The extraction of tar sands in the Alberta province of Canada represents one of the most environmentally destructive industrial developments in the world. We cannot both extract tar sands and maintain a safe and stable climate for present and future generations.

Extracting and upgrading a barrel of oil from tar sands generates up to three times more greenhouse gas emissions than extracting a barrel of conventional oil. Tar sands is strip-mined from northern boreal forests, ancient landscapes that capture and store almost twice as much carbon as tropical forests, further exacerbating the climate risk of tar sands use.

The tar sands industry plans to strip-mine and drill an area of wetlands and forests the size of Florida. In order to extract the oil from tar sands, massive amounts of water are polluted with ammonia, cyanide, arsenic, and other chemicals, which are stored in huge toxic lakes and released into the Athabasca watershed. Physicians in indigenous communities near tar sands extraction sites have reported unusually high rates of certain types of cancers.

Unlike conventional liquid crude, tar sands are heavy sand that contains black sticky hydrocarbons. Tar sands can be extracted in two ways: It can be strip-mined from the Earth and then treated to separate the crude oil from the sand. It takes about two tons of mined tar sands to produce one barrel of oil. Tar sands can also be melted and pumped out of the earth using superheated steam. This in situ mining method requires massive amounts of natural gas and water. Either method generates more carbon and water pollution than conventional oil drilling.

The Northern Alberta tar sands fields are far from refineries and oil transportation infrastructure. Moving tar sands to market is both dangerous and energy intensive. Pipelines are the least expensive way to move tar sands. However, to make the thick tar sands pumpable, it must be diluted with light hydrocarbons, such as natural gas, and pumped at high temperature and pressure, which makes transportation of tar sands much more dangerous than conventional oil. The frequent tar sands pipeline spills in Northern Alberta, as well as other recent high-profile spills in Michigan and Arkansas, have shown that tar sands is more toxic and more difficult to clean up after a spill. When released into the atmosphere, the light hydrocarbons in the tar sands mixture volatize into the air — carrying heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals. The heavy tar sands mixture also sinks in water and sticks to soils. A million-gallon pipeline failure on the Kalamazoo River poisoned surrounding communities and still has not been cleaned up, despite a three-year, billion-dollar effort.

Tar sands production is currently at about two million barrels a day, but the industry is pushing to increase that to 5.2 million barrels per day by 2030. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would transport tar sands 1,700 miles from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast is currently the largest and most controversial pipeline proposal.

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Learn more about how tar sands poisons water

Tar sands mining has a devastating impact on water: poisoned rivers, water tables fouled with toxins like arsenic and cyanide, birds and fish killed, vast amounts of water wasted, and indigenous communities threatened with cancer and other diseases.

Click here to download the report: "The Toxic Waters of the Tar Sands Industry" »

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