Canada’s Tar Sands are the dirtiest source of oil in the world. Extracting oil from these sludgy deposits in the heart of ancient forests produces three to five times as much greenhouse gas as conventional oil. Until recently, using Tar Sands was not considered economically viable even by big industrial polluters. But now BP, along with others, is undertaking the unthinkable, extracting oil for profit at the expense of the climate and the environment upon which Alberta’s indigenous communities depend for survival.

At Climate Camp 2009, representatives of Canada’s First nations told us about the devastating effects on people’s health  (arsenic and heavy metals in essential food supply, contamination of  ground water, terrifyingly high rates of cancer in a population with traditionally low rates) and a scarred landscape which is SACRED to these people.

Dirty oil rears its ugly head outside National Portrait Gallery funded by BP

Dirty oil rears its ugly head outside National Portrait Gallery funded by BP

Today, Tuesday 1st September, a huge gathering of around 400 people came together to express their anger at the National Portrait Gallery (sponsored by BP), the Canadian Embassy (for constantly ignoring indigenous people’s rights and not signing up to the UN declaration of Indigenous people’s rights) and the BP headquarters on St James’ Square (the new big player in the region). BP will decide in the next 6 months if they will move into the land they have acquired to jointly exploit with Husky Energy. Pressure on BP now will have a signification impact. We need to stop Tar Sands oil extraction as if our life depended on it, because many people’s lives do. (report on the protest)

Outside Canada House, oil extraction is killing people

Outside Canada House, oil extraction is killing people

If you’ve ever felt sorrow and anguish at the extermination of vast proportions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, now’s your chance to do something useful!

The campaign to stop BP investing more heavily in tar sands will kick off now and needs an intense effort and lots of solidarity from people like you. Contact Jess below and keep your ear out for what you can do.

First Nation representative Heather speaking outside Canada House

First Nation representative Heather speaking outside Canada House

Scarring the landscape irreversibly

Tar Sands (or ‘oil sands’) are a particular type of oily soil. The oil is found in the ground in the form of bitumen, which is solid at normal temperatures and mixed in with sand, clay and water.  It is extracted in 2 ways:

Open pit mining: this strips away the trees from the top layers of the earth to expose the bitumen beneath it. Two tonnes of bitumen-rich material are extracted for every one barrel of oil produced. This process destroys the local environment and eco systems, leaving gaping open pit mines 75 metres deep, turning once pristine stretches of forest into desolate, post-apocalyptic landscapes and producing toxic pollution.

High pressure steam injection or in situ mining: This requires injecting the bitumen with high pressure steam to separate the oil from the sand so that it can be piped to the surface. Heating the water to produce the steam requires large quantities of natural gas. Enough natual gas is used every day to heat 3.2 million Canadian homes for a year.

Bitumen is a lumpy, oil derivative. Oil flows, this stuff doesn’t. It has been traditionally used to patch canoes. In other words, it is oil in embryo form. It has to be artificially ‘aged’ to make into oil by processing, adding about 100 million years to it!

“This is the proof that peak oil exists. They’re doing this because there’s no other oil left.” McDonald

Poisoning precious water

Water is needed  in huge amounts in Tar Sands. It takes up to 5 litres of water to produce one litre of usable petrol. This water is being diverted from rivers, lakes, farms and cities throughout Canada. Much of the water used in Tar Sands production ends up in toxic ‘tailings ponds’  so vast they are visible from space. These ponds leak toxic waste into local water supplies.

“I worry every day I have to give my 2 year old son water from the tap.” Lionel Lepine, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

Companies working in the area bring in bottled water for their employees to drink, which shows how dirty and lethal even they consider this water to be. As these companies don’t have a good record on workers’ rights and are ruthlessly hiring and firing, bringing in workers from China and the Philipines under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, who are denied the rights of citizenship.

Recent history of the Tar Sands

It was only in 1967 that Suncor began commercial production in the Tar Sands, followed a few years later by Syncrude. Then in 2003, the year the war in Iraq started, oil producers started diving in headlong as the price of oil peaked at US$70 per barrel whereas Tar Sands barrels were being sold at US$40.  In the words of McDonald, a researcher based in Edmunton, Alberta, and visitor to UK and Climate Camp with the First Nations representatives and collaborator in their struggle, “the investment in the area starting from 2003 made the gold rush look tame in comparison”. What is happening in Northern Alberta is the second largest rate of deforestation after the Amazon, in an area which is larger than England and roughly the size of Florida.

British companies, funding and causing destruction

Shell are already up to their eye balls in this oil. They have invested 30% of their operations into the Tar Sands. They’ve already decided that Tar Sands is their future.

BP is a relatively new player in the region. In 2007, they formed a partnership with Husky Energy (who part own Superdrug) to create the Sunrise Project, a large in situ )high pressure steam injection) extraction project in the Athabasca region.  BP are paving the way for huge investment but they’re yet to commit heavily. As James Marriot from the arts and social and environmental justice organisation, Platform put it in a talk at Climate Camp 2009 It’s like they’ve bought the house but they haven’t yet decided to move in.

British banks RBS, HSBC and Barclays are heavily behind this project, committing pension funds and investment funds in it. Every British pension fund has a big stake in Tar Sands. Since the UK government’s massive bailout of RBS in 2008, they are now using taxpayer’s money to finance the most destructive project on the planet.

2010 Winter Olympics are destroying native lands too

2010 Winter Olympics are destroying native lands too

more info:

”British companies are killing us”: Indigenous campaigners join Climate Camp to launch anti-Tar Sands action in the UK

For interviews and further information contact Jess Worth on 07946645726 or jessworth(at) or Clayton Thomas-Muller, Indigenous Environmental Network, (001) 218 760 6632 or monsterredlight(at)