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Tar Sands

Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest, costliest, and most destructive fuels in the world. Unlike conventional crude oil, unrefined tar sands is hard to extract, and in order to mine this resource, oil companies are digging up tens of thousands of acres of pristine forest in Alberta, Canada and leaving behind a toxic wasteland. 

Extracting tar sands

  • Destroys enormous amounts of important ecosystems in the boreal forest;
  • Produces lake-sized reservoirs of toxic waste;
  • Releases toxic chemicals when it is refined in the U.S. and Canada;
  • Emits significantly more global warming pollutants than fuels made from conventional oil.

Tar sands negatively impacts wildlife


Migratory birds are one of the most negatively impacted by tar sands development. More than half of U.S. birds spend a large part of the year outside the United States and many of those birds depend on habitat in Canada for survival. As the tar sands industry in Canada continues to expand, this places a direct threat on migratory bird species.

What Happens When Tar Sands Pipelines Break?

Not only is the development of tar sands destroying Canada's ecosystems and our global atmosphere, but transporting this dirty fuel to U.S. markets has also proven to be extremely dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable.

NWF Fighting Reckless Tar Sands Pipeline Expansion

The tar sands industry is on the brink of a major expansion that could spell game over for our planet’s climate—but they need new pipelines through the United States in order to accomplish this goal. 

Spanning New England, the Great Plains, the Midwest and the Gulf, foreign companies like TransCanada Corporation and Enbridge, Inc. are mounting enormous construction efforts to send their dirty fuel to international markets.

If the industry gets its way, Canada gets the jobs, China gets the oil, and the U.S. gets the risk. 

Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline (Great Plains)

TransCanada, a Canadian pipeline company, has proposed a massive pipeline which would carry up to 35 million gallons per day of tar sands oil from operations in Alberta more than two thousand miles to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The pipeline—called “Keystone XL”—would cut through six American heartland states from Montana to Texas, threatening the Ogallala aquifer and crucial habitat for Sandhill cranes, sage grouse and more. 

LEARN MORE about the Keystone XL pipeline, and what people across the country are doing to fight it >>  

Exxon & Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline (New England)

ExxonMobil and Enbridge Inc—the company responsible for the disastrous Kalamazoo River tar sands spill—are secretly working on a project in New England that would put Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine in harm’s way. Construction of this covert pipeline could mean transporting up to 12.6 million gallons of tar sands oil per day through those states and would contribute to the expansion of habitat-destroying tar sands operations in Alberta, Canada. 

FIND OUT about the Exxon & Enbridge pipeline project, and what NWF is doing to stop the expansion of the dirtiest fuel on the planet >>

Enbridge’s Enormous System Expansion (Great Lakes and Midwest)

Enbridge is looking well beyond New England in their rush to boost profits: the corporate giant is also pushing plans from the Great Lakes to Texas that would dramatically ramp up their industrial footprint by expanding old infrastructure and constructing new tar sands pipelines in Missouri, Illinois, and other states across the region. These projects even beat the Keystone XL pipeline for sheer volume: the proposed “Alberta Clipper” pipeline expansion alone would result in 37 million gallons per day of toxic tar sands flowing through the Great Lakes watershed.

LEARN MORE about Enbridge's tar sands projects and the threat they pose to the Midwest >>

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Help support NWF's work to protect wildlife from tar sands and other threats >>

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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