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Home > Issues > Beyond Fossil Fuels to Clean Energy > Beyond Oil --> Tar SandsLine 61 Map

Click here to take action on the tar sands expansion through Wisconsin


Tar Sands Oil Devastation

Tar Sands, or oil sands is a mixture of clay, sand, water, and bitumen and contains oil; sometimes it is found inside sandstone. The bitumen is extracted from the mixture and then refined to become oil. The mining, extraction, and refining processes destroy unique habitats and are extremely water- and energy- intensive.  Click here to learn more about the tar sands oil network is being built throughout Wisconsin.

Devastating Land Destruction of Canada's Boreal Forest

Tar sands oil is buried beneath Canada's boreal forests, across an area spanning 54,000 square miles.  In order to get to this oil, forests are destroyed, open-pit mined, and drilled.Prince Albert National Park

These unique, wild forests are critical for wildlife habitat and carbon dioxide sequestration.  The forest has some of the largest populations of wolves, grizzly bears, moose in the world. It is also critical for certain endangered species, such as the Woodland Caribou.

The amount the oil companies would like to drill could grow to be the size of Florida. According to the Boreal Songbird Initiative, nearly 50% of the 700 species that regularly occur in the U.S. and Canada rely on boreal forest for their survival.  The Boreal is also home to the largest freshwater, inland river delta in the world, the Peach Athasbasca Delta. 


Devastating Threats to Our Water

According to a report released by Environmental Defense, the Alberta Tar Sand mine:

  • Is licensed to use double the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year.
  • 90% of that water is put in tailing ponds and is extremely toxic.

Tar sands oil that is being shipped through pipelines throughout Canada and United States severely threatens our waterways.  Since tar sands oil is so much denser than traditional oil, it needs to be mixed with multiple chemicals in order to move it through pipelines. This makes it much harder to clean up as the sediments settle to the bottom of waterways.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that because the oil is different than conventional in water, it “may require different response actions or equipment”.

Unfortunately, the Kalamazoo River had to be the guinea pig to discover this with the Kalamazoo spill in 2010 when an Enbridge pipeline erupted and spilled 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil into a wetland that leaked into the Kalamazoo River during a planned shutdown.  The environmental damage to the wetlands, Kalamazoo River, and Talmadge Creek continues and will likely never fully be erased.  Enbridge is still funding clean-up.  In March (over two years after the spill), the EPA ordered river dredging as the river is still contaminated.  The total clean-up is expected to exceed $1 billion.

Last year, Wisconsin had its own, much smaller, spill in Grand Marsh (Adams County).  According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the rupture spilled an estimated 50,000 gallons of oil and contaminated 17,000 tons of soil.

The Great Lakes Cannot Afford a Spill

The beauty, rarity, and purity of the Great Lakes make them the cornerstone for the life of the region.  The economy relies on the tourism industry, the $16 billion boating industry, and the fishing industry.  More importantly, the Great Lakes provide 84% of North America’s fresh water supply and over 20% of the surface fresh water supply for the world.  The Great Lake Basin supplies drinking water to 30 million residents.  The Great Lakes region is also culturally significant to the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe and their sub-nations.

Our oil supply is not more important than our water supply.  The water that we drink from.  The water that we eat out of.  The water that gives many their identity.  And the water that we need to sustain us.  Wisconsin needs to be focusing on reducing our oil demand by increasing clean transportation infrastructure, not finding more ways to get toxic oil regardless of the risks.


Devastating for Climate Change

According to a 2007 U.S. Geological Survey report, tar sands oil has eleven times more sulfur, six times more nitrogen, eleven times more nickel, and five times more lead than traditional oil, making it that much more dangerous.  The climate-change pollution is much, much more devastating.

The destruction of the forest and peat bogs (the habitat that captures more carbon than any other) increases the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.  The forests are thought to store 22% of the carbon on the Earth's surface--the equivalent ot 27 years worth of the earth's carbon emissions, and stores twice as much carbon per unit as tropical forests.  Even if the oil was carbon-free, the destruction of the forests is devastating for the climate.

Because this process to excavate the tar sands oil is so intense, it emits far greater amounts of carbon dioxide, ‘black carbon’, and methane than traditional oil. 

The price of oil is not worth threats on critical habitats, our fresh-water supply, and our entire planet.  We need to instead reduce our demand on oil by taking transit, biking, and walking

To get involved with the Beyond Oil through Clean Transportation Subcommittee, contact Elizabeth Ward at (608) 256-0565 or by e-mailing