Tar Sands Mining - Keystone Pipeline Fact Sheet

Facts, Issues, Problems

  • Canada’s Tar Sands comprise a massive underground mixture of sand and asphalt (a sticky, semi-solid type of petroleum) now being mined in Alberta Province. The Canadian company TransCanada proposes to build the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL) to move the mined asphalt through the U.S. to Texas/Louisiana gulf coast refineries.

  • Mining the tar sands involves stripping the overlying forest, digging down to the deposits, heating or strip-mining them to extract the asphalt. To be pumped through pipelines, it must be converted to a tar slurry—still containing some sand—by adding water, caustic soda and other chemicals, and be kept heated.

  • Huge amounts of energy, in the form of natural gas for heating the tar and diesel fuel for equipment, are used in this process. As the destroyed forest vegetation and root systems break down, their sequestered carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

  • The mining leaves massive unlined ponds of toxic liquid and sludge bordered by dikes of tar-laden dirt. Contaminated water seeps into the regional watershed, poisoning fish and other wildlife and threatening the health of peoples consuming them.

  • The tar sands mines now cover an area the size of Chicago; they are visible from space. If the KXL pipeline is constructed, companies will be able to vastly expand the mines to ultimately cover an area the size of Florida. This would be possibly the world’s most energy-consuming industrial project, as well as the world’s largest toxic mine-tailings pond complex.

  • Reclamation of such a vast contaminated area will take at least 4 decades if it’s possible at all. Full restoration of the colossal amount of sequestered carbon this Florida-sized patch of boreal forest contains will more likely take most of a century or more.

  • Once the KXL is constructed, making the tar slurry (called “diluted bitumen”) flow through it will require heating the mixture to 130–150° F and pumping it at a pressure of 1600 lbs./sq. in.—all of which consumes still more energy.

  • The combination of the high pressure, high temperature, abrasiveness (due to sand particles), and corrosiveness of the pipeline’s contents will almost certainly lead to repeated ruptures and spills. Canadian government scientists say their tests of the diluted Tar Sands bitumen show it to be no more corrosive than conventional crude oil, but they appear not to have done “real world” testing of the actual combined impact of all 4 of the factors mentioned on pipeline interior surfaces. Because the KXL will be underground, leaks will not be detected until they become large. While planned to be re-routed somewhat, the pipeline would still cross the U.S.’s vast Ogallala Aquifer, a major source of water for agriculture and human consumption.

  • Spills of this tar slurry mixture are more damaging and harder to clean up than conventional oil spills, especially in bodies of water. A tar sands slurry pipeline spill in Michigan still contaminates 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River, even after 3 years and a million dollars spent in cleanup efforts.

  • TransCanada’s most recently-built “Keystone 1” pipeline had 14 spills in its first year, and its “Bison” pipeline exploded. This company is under investigation for repeated pipeline safety violations. The specifications and materials proposed for the KXL would make it little or no less liable to ruptures and spills.

  • The U.S. has allowed construction get under way on of what may become the lower portion of the KXL—running from Oklahoma through Texas—partly because it can be used to transport other oil, should construction of the rest of the KXL across the U.S. be blocked.

  • Once at a refinery, the tar slurry mixture must be pre-processed before standard refining is possible. The costs and toxic emissions from tar sands asphalt processing and refining exceed those of conventional crude oil refining. The entire tar cycle of tar sands mining, pipeline transport, and refining consumes far more energy and generates far more carbon dioxide than does production of conventional oil. Specifically:

    1. For tar sands-derived petroleum the net yield of usable energy—over the energy expended to generate it—is only about one-eighth that of conventional oil production.

    2. Most important, completion of the KXL and attendant expansion of Canadian tar sands mining and of the tar slurry refining would lead to truly massive additional discharges of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with the resultant impact on climate instability.

  • For the new tars sands mines to be built and operated in Canada if the KXL is approved, the estimated cost of mining and transport to point of sale is about $80/barrel. Adding in the pre-processing necessary to convert the pipeline tar slurry into lighter crude oil for refining into gasoline and diesel brings the cost to over $100/barrel—no cheaper than conventional oil.

  • With the raw material coming from a foreign country—and with a large part of the final product likely to be exported to foreign countries—bringing the tar sands crude into the U.S. would do little for our nation’s energy independence. Further, the lion’s share of the overall profits will go to Canadian companies.

  • U.S. imports of crude oil are dropping, due to increased domestic production, energy conservation and renewable energy growth. Is added foreign oil really needed?

  • Studies by the University of Cornell and the U.S. State Department found that operation of the KXL pipeline would add only a small number (35) permanent full-time jobs for Americans. This study also estimates that the work equivalent of 2600 to 4600 temporary U.S. jobs, which would end in just 2 years, would be added during construction of the KXL.

  • TransCanada and its supporters say they would build the pipeline over some other route to the coast—all of it in Canada—should completion of the KXL be blocked. But reaching agreement on and constructing an alternate route would be more expensive and take longer to accomplish.

  • During this period, Canada’s government, now dominated by a largely petro-state and climate science denial-minded majority, may change. A 2012 survey found that over 40% of Canadians now oppose the KXL and its attendant expansion of tar sands mining, mainly because of the tremendous environmental damage.

Do you like this page?

Showing 1 reaction


commented 2013-08-11 00:14:13 -0700 · Flag
Well done. Their going to kill this planet if we don’t stop them. We’re are going to be forced to hurt them before this is over.
350 Bay Area
We are building a grassroots climate movement, working for deep reductions in carbon pollution in the San Francisco Bay Area & beyond.

Sign up to Volunteer

Find us on Facebook