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Banks and tar sands

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Impacts of tar sands

Tar sands are deposits of sand, clay, water and ‘bitumen': a viscous liquid that can be processed into oil products. The total known world reserves amount to the equivalent of 6 trillion barrels of oil - more than the conventional oil reserves.

Oil production from tar sands emits two to three times as much greenhouse gases as conventional oil. A 2009 report by WWF and the Co-operative Bank states that the capture and storage of CO2 from tar sands projects offers no solution. The problem of the use of tar sands for energy generation is similar to that of coal: it worsens the climate problem rather than contributing to a solution.

On top of their climate impacts, tar sands are also responsible for major and disastrous impacts:

  • on the forests that need to be clear-cut for their developments,
  • on water quality from the toxic waste present in the tar sands tailings ponds,
  • on the health of local communities, damaged by this pollution.

For all these reasons, Tar Sands need to be phased out immediately.

To avoid the devastating impacts of their investments, private banks must take steps to disengage from all activities and projects that substantially contribute to climate change and environmental and communities degradation. They must end support for all new oil extraction and delivery, starting with Tar Sands.

Tar Sands in Canada

The Canadian province of Alberta has total proven oil reserves of 170.2 billion barrels in 2011, according to the state government. This amounts to about 11 percent of total global oil reserves - only Saudi Arabia has more. Currently, 1.3 million barrels of oil are produced from tar sands each day in Alberta. With planned investment of $136 billion in the Canadian mining industry in the next decade, this production could reach 4.5 million barrels per day.

The mining and refinement of tar sands into oil is Canada's largest source of CO2 emissions, contributing 40 million tons of CO2 per year. Thousands of acres of boreal forests are cleared in the process. These forests represent more than 25% of the remaining primeval forests on our planet. The destruction of these forests is fatal for the climate. They retain more than 47 billion tonnes of CO2. Many NGOs are campaigning to put a halt to all tar sands projects. The First Nations indigenous groups in Canada are also protesting against the extraction of oil from tar sands. At the 2010 Annual General Meeting of the Royal Bank of Canada, a significant financier of the tar sands industry, a representative of the First Nations described the environmental impact of the tar sands as an ‘environmental holocaust'.

Besides the impacts on the environment, tar sands production also causes water and air pollution. George Poitras, a former leader of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, states: "We are seeing a terrifyingly high rate of cancer in Fort Chipewyan where I live. We are convinced that these cancers are linked to the tar sands development on our doorstep. It is shortening our lives. That's why we no longer call it ‘dirty oil' but ‘bloody oil'. The blood of Fort Chipewyan's residents sticks to the hands of these companies."

For more information on this, see the following Dodgy deals:

Tar Sands in other parts of the world

Tar sands projects can also be found at earlier stages of development in other parts of the world, including the Congo, Madagascar, and Venezuela.

For more information on this, see the following Dodgy deals:

Climate context

Through their lending, investment, and other financial services, commercial banks play an indispensable role in mobilizing and allocating financial resources for the private sector. As such, they are in a unique position to either help further entrench patterns of energy production and intensive energy use that are based on the burning of fossil fuels, or to catalyse the necessary transition to an economy that minimizes GHG pollution and relies on energy efficiency and low- to zero-carbon energy sources. BankTrack believes that with this influential position comes a special responsibility for banks to play a leadership role in addressing the challenges of climate change.

But financing climate solutions won't be enough to address these challenges. Indeed, banks must take steps to disengage from all activities and projects that substantially contribute to climate change, and must end support for all new oil extraction and delivery, starting with Tar Sands.

For any question or information on the BankTrack Tar Sands campaign, please contact Yann Louvel, BankTrack Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator. 

Back to Banks, Climate and Energy

Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth

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Congo tar sands
Congo
Oil sands are a mixture of bitumen and sand. Oil sands production is a carbon-intensive process because it is a hugely inefficient way of extracting and refining the oil.…
Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines
Canada
The Enbridge Pipelines involve two pipelines from Bruderheim Alberta (near Edmonton), to a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia. The East pipeline is to import…
Keystone XL pipeline
United States
TransCanada is proposing a 36-inch, 1,700 mile pipeline, that would carry 900,000 barrels of Tar Sands oil from Hardisy, Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas. The pipeline system,…
Madagascar tar sands
Madagascar
Located in the western Melaky region of Mahajanga pronvince are the two most developed tar sands projects of Madagascar, named Bemolanga and Tsimiroro. The size of both fields…
Venezuelan tar sands
Venezuela
Venezuela's tar sands are reported to be the largest after Canada, with recoverable oil totalling at least 2.26 trillion barrels. The majority of the deposits are located…
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Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth

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2013 2011 2010 2009 2008
Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth

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Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth

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pictures
videos

Tar sands – to the ends of the earth
Jun 18, 2013 - The documentary shows how Madagascar's rural population and its fragile eco-system will be devastated if oil companies start exploiting tar sands in the country. The film documents campaigners from Friends of the Earth Europe, USA and Madagascar travelling to Canada to witness the devastating impact that tar sands are having in the only country where they are currently commercially exploited.

curing RBS of its oil addiction
Aug 29, 2011 - Short video on campaign on RBS and their investments in oil/tar sands

Protests at RBS AGM
Apr 21, 2011 - Protesters dressed as oil addicted bankers demonstrate outside the Royal Bank of Scotland AGM in Edinburgh.

A Sticking Point
Feb 01, 2011 - Poker-face as you've never heard it in a place you've never seen it - how to close the Royal Bank of Scotland with songs and superglue.

Cleaning up the Royal Bank of Scotland
Sep 30, 2010 - short video about activities around the RBS Annual General Meeting earlier this year

Brant Olson about RAN and BankTrack
May 19, 2010 - Video shot during the BankTrack annual meeting in Zuerich, January 2010.

Canada's Dirty Oil: Breaking Our Addiction
Jan 31, 2010 -

RBC Awarded Most Environmentally Irresponsible Company
Jan 31, 2010 - The 2010 Public Eye Award named RBC the year's most environmentally and socially irresponsible company. RANs Brant Olson is accepting the award for RBC as the banks representatives declined to attend the ceremony.

Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth

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