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Tar Sands Oil Pipelines

The Obama administration's denial of the Keystone XL pipeline marks one of the first times a major fossil fuel infrastructure project was denied over concerns related to the wildlife-threatening carbon pollution it would spur. The proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline would have stretched from the tar sands fields in Canada down through the United States. The Keystone XL Pipeline would have added 1,100 miles of pipeline and 830,000 barrels per day of polluting oil.

After over six years of review and vigorous objections raised by wildlife enthusiasts, ranchers, and landowners over climate, habitat and spill concerns, the Keystone XL pipeline was rejected by President Obama on November 6, 2015. The pipeline would have had far reaching environmental impacts, including the development of one of the dirtiest fuel sources- tar sands oil. Production and processing of tar sands oil produces three to four times as much carbon emissions as conventional oil as the extraction process is more energy intensive. Tar sands production pollutes and destroys vital migratory bird habitat in Canada’s boreal forest. The pipeline would have also damaged ecosystems, fragmented habitat, and placed precious prairie streams and rivers at risk of oil spills along its route.

Unfortunately, the tar sands industry is still seeking to expand tar sands pipelines into the United States in order to bring its landlocked product to new markets. Enbridge, Inc., the company responsible for the devastating 2010 tar sands spill into the Kalamazoo River – the largest on-land oil spill in US history – is planning to expand of its Great Lakes pipeline system and attempt to lock the U.S. into a dependence on dirty fuels and further drive the expansion of oil mining operations in Canada.

In 2014, Enbridge worked behind-the-scenes to bypass the public and gain approval of a plan to switch flow among its existing pipes to increase tar sands transport through the Great Lakes and beyond by over 400,000 barrels per day. Enbridge now wants to replace and expand existing lines even further, allowing a total of about 1.1 million barrels per day of new tar sands to threaten lakes, habitat, wildlife and the climate. While Keystone XL’s denial has helped contain dangerous tar sands growth, it is equally important to prevent Enbridge’s Great Lakes expansion plans.

Oil Pipeline photo by USGS

Impacts to Communities and Wildlife

The Keystone XL would have sliced through America's agricultural heartland, the Missouri, Platte, and Niobrara Rivers, the Ogallala aquifer, habitat for sage grouse and Sandhill cranes, walleye fisheries and much more. Our public water supplies, croplands, and recreational opportunities would have been at risk of dangerous tar sands oil spills like the million-gallon Enbridge oil spill in Michigan.

Now, precious resources in the Great Lakes region and beyond face a similar risk. Loons, wolves, moose and other wildlife would be directly impacted if an Enbridge pipeline had another disaster like 2010 Kalamazoo spill.

Wildlife rehabilitation after oil spill photo by USFWS

In Canada, the risk to wildlife is equally great. The extraction of tar sands oil from the evergreen forests of Alberta, Canada requires significantly more energy than conventional oil, as bitumen, a tar like petroleum product, needs to be separated from sand and clay in a complex process that used large quantities of chemicals and water. It takes three barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil, and after the process is complete most of the water is too polluted for other use and must be stored in vast man-made storage pools called tailing ponds. These ponds pose a pollution risk to the surrounding water ways and a hazard to migrating birds.

Tar sands oil also results in the clearing of vast tracts of boreal forest, one of our best natural defenses against climate change as these forests store and sequester carbon dioxide, a leading cause of climate change.

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Tar Sands News & Reports

Report Overview and Recommendations: ENBRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER

Please find this new report, Enbridge over Troubled Water — The Enbridge GXL System's Threat to the Great Lakes.


This report tells the story of Enbridge and its system of oil pipelines in the Great Lakes region.

CRUDE BEHAVIOR: TransCanada, Enbridge, and the Tar Sands Industry's Tarnished Legacy

Years of bullying, spills, and environmental destruction documented.

After the Marshall Spill: Oil Pipelines in the Great Lakes Region

Report Finds Great Lakes, Communities Remain Vulnerable to Pipeline Disasters.

Tar Sands Factsheets

Endangering North America's Shared Bird Heritage Factsheet

Why more tar sands means less wildlife.

Colorado Tar Sands Factsheet

Here’s what you need to know about the risks tar sands pose to Colorado communities.

Maine Tar Sands Factsheet

Here’s what you need to know about the risks tar sands pose to Maine communities.

New Hampshire Tar Sands Factsheet

Here’s what you need to know about the risks tar sands pose to New Hampshire communities.

Tar Sands Increases Risk for Disastrous Oil Spills

Here’s what you need to know about the risks tar sands pose to your community.

ExxonMobil's Plans to Bring Tar Sands Oil Through the Northeast

Could Big Oil Behind Trailbreaker Mean Big Problems ahead?

KXL Myths Vs. Facts

Debunking the Biggest Lies About the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Proposed Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Final Environmental Impact Statement Backgrounder.

Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Big Oil plans to put America's clean energy future in jeopardy.

On Shore Oil Disasters

Why tar sands pipelines are dirty and dangerous regardless of what the industry PR tactics suggest.

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