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March 27, 2014

The Toxic Waters of the Tar Sands Industry

Tar sandsLet's be real: tar sands are a disaster for the climate, for water, for public health, for Indigenous communities that live in tar sands extraction sacrifice zones, and for communities along existing and proposed pipeline and rail routes. If they have their way, the industry's plans for tar sands extraction would destroy a swath of boreal forest the size of Florida, and already the toxic tailings lakes of mining wastewater can be seen from space.  

North America's biggest corporations, as the biggest consumers of oil, need to sit up and pay attention. Any company with a concern for sustainability and public health, including water conservation and protection, has a responsibility to move its vehicle fleet/product shipping fueling away from tar sands-derived petroleum, end of story.
The Sierra Club's Future Fleet campaign is putting pressure on corporations to get off tar sands and reduce their overall oil use, and this week, the Sierra Club released a new report that highlights a tar sands issue of growing concern: The Toxic Waters of the Tar Sands Industry - An Opportunity for Companies to Reduce Their Consumption of Tar Sands Fuel.

Let's look at the report by the numbers:

  • At least seven: The number of poisonous chemicals released by the tar sands industry into freshwater systems each day.
  • 11,000 cubic meters: The amount of wastewater that seeps from toxic tailings lakes into adjoining ground each day.
  • Two to four: The number of barrels of fresh water used per barrel of tar sands oil produced through mining.
  • Three times more: The amount of water used by tar sands operations compared to conventional oil.
  • 0.2 percent: The amount of land disturbed by tar sands development that has been certified as reclaimed.
  • 68 square miles: Size of toxic tar sands tailings lakes.
  • 170 percent: The expected growth in freshwater use by the tar sands industry by 2030.
  • Zero: The number of oil sands companies complying with 2009 Alberta regulations on tailings waste management

To release the report this week, the Sierra Club invited industry representatives and activists from across the country to join a web session on the water impacts of tar sands. Speaking at the session were Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative Director Gina Coplon-Newfield; Environmental Defence Canada's National Program Manager Hannah McKinnon; and Sierra Club Canada's Prairie Chapter Climate & Energy Campaigner Crystal Lameman, who is a member the Beaver Lake Cree Nation directly impacted by the tar sands industry. If you missed the live broadcast, you can see the session here.

In short, the report lays out for corporate tar sands consumers what is already clear to communities in the path of tar sands extraction and export: tar sands destroy the climate and pollute water. The report identifies steps that major fuel buyers, such as companies with large shipping and vehicle fleet operations, must take to get off this dirty fuel.  

The good news is that companies such as Walgreens, Trader Joe's, and Columbia Sportswear have publicly committed to reduce their reliance on tar sands fuel by working with their fuel and transportation providers to make sure that the fuel, whenever possible, is coming from refineries that do not process tar sands.  

It's time that America's other corporations - we're looking at you, PepsiCo - put their money where their marketing is and say no to tar sands.

-- Rachel Butler is a campaigner with the Beyond Oil Campaign's Future Fleet Initiative


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