Pages tagged "tar sands"

Keystone XL Veto Means Nothing Without Final Rejection


For immediate release:

February 24, 2015

Following President Obama’s veto of Congressional pro-Keystone XL legislation, Rainforest Action Network Climate and Energy Program Director Amanda Starbuck issued the following statement:

“We’re glad the president vetoed this cynical, politically-motivated stunt. However, a veto on its own is not enough. This movement has fought for years to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and we will accept nothing less than a final rejection. Keystone XL miserably fails the climate test, and if President Obama wants to be remembered as a leader on climate, his only option is rejection.”



Claire Sandberg, 646-641-6431,

RAN response to EPA's comments on the Keystone XL pipeline

For immediate release: February 3, 2015
contact: Claire Sandberg, 646-641-6431,

EPA gives the president everything he needs to reject Keystone

In response to comments by the Environmental Protection Agency released today regarding the State Department’s Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone XL pipeline, Rainforest Action Network Climate Program Director Amanda Starbuck issued the following statement:

“The EPA’s comments today on Keystone XL confirm what we’ve long known to be true: that this pipeline would be an utter disaster for the climate. For a president who has pledged to reject the pipeline if it fails the climate test, these comments should be the final verdict on the matter. We look forward to President Obama heeding the EPA’s words and putting this pipeline to rest once and for all.”



Despite Nebraska Ruling, Keystone XL Still Fails Climate Test

For immediate release:
January 9, 2015

Claire Sandberg,

San Francisco—In response to today’s ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court on the proposed pipeline route for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, Rainforest Action Network Climate Program Director Amanda Starbuck issued the following statement:

“This decision does nothing to alter the fundamental facts on Keystone. Not only does the pipeline present dire threats to Indigenous communities, ranchers, and the Ogallala aquifer, it miserably fails the administration’s own climate test. The millions of people who have joined the movement to stop this pipeline are looking to President Obama right now to choose the only option compatible with a stable climate: immediate rejection.”


RAN Responds to White House Keystone Veto Threat

January 6, 2015

contact: Claire Sandberg, claire@ran.org646-641-6431
San Francisco—In response to the news that President Obama will veto proposed legislation on the Keystone XL pipeline introduced by Republicans in Congress, Rainforest Action Network Climate Program Director Amanda Starbuck issued the following statement:

“This is a testament to the dedication and resolve of millions of grassroots activists who have for years fought to stop this pipeline, against all odds. Together this movement has marched, written letters, sat in at the White House and along the route of the pipeline, and self-organized a large-scale network ready to do whatever it takes to win a rejection on Keystone. It’s an important day for the climate and for communities when the President decides to side with the people over the fossil fuel corporations who are wrecking our climate for profit.”

Rainforest Action Network has been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline since 2009. With partners CREDO and the Other 98 percent, RAN organized the Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance Network, which has trained thousands of people in civil disobedience. To date, almost 100,000 people have signed the Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance, and have committed to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to stop the pipeline.


Environmental Injustice in Alberta


In late June, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. Walking amidst the tar sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience.

This blog post is one of a series, sharing our impressions and reflections.

Todd's previous post was "Industry's Dreams, Indigenous Nightmares: A Visit to the Alberta Tar Sands"

We left the tar sands boomtown of Fort McMurray via Highway 63, a notoriously dangerous road we were warned was trafficked by huge trucks hauling mining machinery and by oil workers cutting loose on their time off. Fortunately, we traveled the short distance to the Tar Sands Healing Walk camp without incident. We joined the healing walk encampment, a collection of tents and teepees along the beautiful Gregoire Lake, and were hosted by Keepers of the Athabasca, a network of Indigenous First Nations groups.

The natural beauty of Alberta is striking, and deceptive. At first glance, the land looks unspoiled, with thick stands of white-barked birch, a big sky, and the placid waters of Gregoire Lake. Tragically, the idyllic façade belies profound contamination: the air, waters, animals, and people of Alberta are poisoned. This reality was quickly hammered home in the Tars Sands Healing Walk camp. Drinking water for the gathering of several hundred had been pumped from a residence at nearby Fort Chipewyan, and the water reeked of methane gas. Apparently, some of the well-intentioned visitors in attendance helpfully pointed this out to the community hosts, prompting a sobering announcement from the stage: "People are complaining about the water smelling of methane. This is what people drink here. There is no other water." Later the same day, Annette Campre from Fort McKay First Nation told the crowd that she has been using bottled water to bathe her children for years. The Athabasca River flows north through the tar sands mines, carrying contaminants away from major population centers and toward Fort Chipewyan, a community of Chipewyan, Cree, and Metis First Nations people. One suspects that the intense water contamination visited on Fort Chipewyan would not be permitted if the river of pollutants flowed south from the tar sands into the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Calgary.

The consequences of tar sands mining contaminants are disproportionately borne by First Nations communities, like Fort Chipewyan, a tiny town with a hugely anomalous incidence of rare and aggressive cancers, like bile-duct cancer. At the Tar Sands Healing Walk encampment, we heard from Dr. John O’Connor, the fly-in doctor for Fort Chipewyan and early whistleblower on the abnormally high incidence of cancers in the region. Dr. O’Connor recounted efforts by industry and government to discredit his first-hand observances, which have been borne out in a recent study that found that 21.3% of surveyed First Nations persons displayed evidence of cancer. The study also reported "that cancer occurrence is significantly and positively associated with participant employment in the Oil Sands as well as the consumption of traditional foods and locally caught fish."

The cancer epidemic faced by First Nations communities in the Alberta Tar Sands region are appalling, but the damage inflicted by tar sands mining on Canada's original people goes deeper. The same recent study documented "elevated levels of the environmental contaminants arsenic, cadmium, mercury and selenium, as well as PAHs (some carcinogenic) in the foods traditionally harvested by the First Nations in the region." Translation: the game that Indigenous people rely on in Alberta is ridden with toxins. For First Nations people, this has much deeper implications than the simple right to uncontaminated food stocks. As I learned at the Tar Sands Healing Walk, many of the important ceremonial and spiritual practices of Alberta's First Nations rely on traditional relationships with game, including hunting and the consumption of this meat. Tar sands developments threaten local species like the caribou with extinction, and are poisoning fish and game stocks. For First Nations communities, the contamination and degradation of the land is an existential threat; if First Nations people are unable to pass on traditional knowledge and practice, their culture and spiritual practice is destroyed. As we learned at the Tars Sands Healing Walk, the continued development of the Albertan tar sands is a perpetuation of cultural genocide by settler culture.

So what is to be done about this? Tune in next week for a final post—“Resistance: what do we do about the tar sands?”

Image: Chipewyan drummers lead the Tar Sands Healing walk. The Chipewyan culture is directly threatened by tar sands mining.

Ryan's World

In late June, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. Walking amidst the tar sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience.

This blog post is one of a series, sharing our impressions and reflections.

dsc_0353_1000.jpg"For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: 'Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.'"

– Max Weber

Eyes watering from the polluted air, I walked past a beach of toxic sand alongside a tar sands tailings pond. Cannons blasted several times each minute to warn off birds. Spanning a mile from shore to shore, this watery anti-paradise is visible from space, having been scraped from the surrounding expanse of boreal forest.

Welcome to Syncrude Canada. A billboard with an image of a buffalo welcomes visitors to this signature project of the tar sands, the largest industrial project in human history. This is our generation’s Apollo project, the crowning achievement of the late fossil fuel age, where human ingenuity and ambition is being stretched to the utmost.

“Who oversees this?” I thought to myself. “Are they proud of what they have created?” Ryan Kubik, the chair of the board of Syncrude is in charge here. In all likelihood, he is proud. He is, to use the ersatz dialect of corporate communications, Delivering Value for his Shareholders while Driving Operational Excellence, Engaging Proactively with Stakeholders, and Ensuring a Reliable Supply of Energy for North America. If he had met with us, he would no doubt have emphasized Syncrude’s Commitment to the Highest Standard of Environmental Compliance and their Innovative Post-Mining Reclamation Strategy to Restore Land to Productive Use. Hollow as these words might sound to my ears, he might actually believe them.

I wonder how Ryan could stand amidst this ruined landscape, eyes and lungs burning, and pronounce it to be Good. But in the language of “materiality,” the native tongue of the global managerial and investing world, the tar sands are not just good, they are sensational. To be “material,” something must have the potential to impact the profitability of a company or investment. This language has thousands of words and concepts for things that could lead to a financial gain or loss.

For Syncrude, this language can eloquently describe the difference between the market price of synthetic crude oil and the cost of mining and upgrading it. And as the industry magazine Oil Sands Review reported in March, oil companies have found the financial logic of the tar sands (price of synthetic crude minus the cost of production equals profit for shareholders) to be unassailable, pouring $25 billion into new production capacity last year.

But this language of materiality has many glaring and unforgiveable gaps. It has no words for the cancers appearing in communities downstream from Syncrude on the Athabasca River, no words to describe violations of the rights and sovereignty of First Nations, and no words for the inherent value of healthy ecosystems or the dangers of runaway global climate change.

Nor do analogues exist for these concepts in the “price minus cost equals profit” equation which is Syncrude’s reason for existence. Clean water, biodiversity, a stable climate, and health have no synonyms in the language of those with the power to allocate capital. And in the moral universe of capital in which the right-hand side of this fateful equation matters most, everything else is just a means to the end of maximizing profit. This is the uncomfortable truth hidden in the industry quip that the stench of petroleum fumes coming off tar sands sites is the “smell of money”: The money is real; the land and people who are being consumed in order to produce it are not.

The crimes of the tar sands are numerous: The industry has left deep scars on ecosystems, bodies, human rights, and the atmosphere. And yet these crimes have been perpetrated not by the sudden acts of hardened criminals but by the day-to-day routines of countless workers, executives, investors, and consumers.

The irony of the tar sands is that they have no future on a liveable planet: Further investment in tar sands production is likely to be rendered unprofitable by any global price on carbon sufficient to avert catastrophic climate change.

But the tragedy of the tar sands is that they are a waste: of ambition, imagination, and time. Rather than responding to rising oil prices and an overheating climate by transitioning away from a fossil fuel-based energy system, we have wasted an enormous amount of money, labor, and carbon emissions on the tar sands in a desperate bid to keep the fossil fuel status quo in place for a few more years.

A century ago, sociologist Max Weber warned in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism of the rise of the narrow, profit-seeking value system that has birthed and nurtured Syncrude. This particular worldview sees beauty and truth in spreadsheets but is increasingly blind to the lived, human reality of the world. We have failed to heed Weber’s warning and today, the capital markets and political classes lavish praise and material rewards on men such as those who run Syncrude. We live in Ryan’s world now. Half a century ago, our best and brightest aspired to land on the moon. Today, they wash oil from sand.

Searching For a Decolonized Mind

syncrude.jpgIn late June, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. Walking amidst the tar sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience.

This blog post is one of a series, sharing our impressions and reflections.

The tar sands developers try to camouflage their industry, so you don’t know it’s a part of a greater system of oppression. From the main roads around the tar sands industry only thick forests and an immense turquoise sky are visible. These lands are valuable to the First Nations people including the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Beaver Lake Cree, and the Mikisew Cree, who have always lived in the vicinity and whose health and livelihood in many ways depend on the land. Unfortunately, these lands are also valuable to the oil industry, because the tar sands underneath contain bitumen, an extremely dirty form of petroleum.

From within the industrialized area, where companies extract tar sands oil, the scene is very different. By the oil extraction sites there are no trees. In a land that should be forest everything is barren—a man-made desert of depleted sand. There are no birds. There are no living creatures. There are “tailings ponds”, industrial waste sites that are filled with mercury, lead and arsenic. The water is actually toxic to drink. The air is toxic to breathe. Still to the human eye, the calamity of the situation is left uncertain. You can see this one instance of environmental destruction, but you can’t see the system of oppression that enables it. The oil industry hides behind the camouflage of economic “development” and “reclamation.” The oil industry allies with the government. It allies with investors who gain monetary benefits from its development. It allies with an international system that approves of destroying land for oil. All those allies are people who fail to see oppression for what it is, and want to uphold it.

With increasing frequency I hear people pointing at climate change and environmental destruction as the cause of human rights violations. The development of the tar sands in Canada is no exception. The Alberta tar sands are the largest industrial project in the world, and one of the most controversial. Their development has been linked to extremely high rates of fatal cancers, displacement, and loss of traditional ways of life for the many First Nations that live in the vicinity. After participating in the Tar Sands Healing Walk I cannot help but ask: if we learn the history of colonization of the First Nations people, wouldn’t we better understand the tar sands? If we looked at the environmental destruction of the tar sands as a symptom of colonization, our understanding of the struggle against such destruction would change.

Colonization has dictated who has rights to land, air, water and even traditional culture for most of modern history.  For example, here in California water rights were historically “first in time, first in law.” This granted water rights to the first settler to claim a water source, completely ignoring the actual first people of the land. “Common law was founded on a racist precedent,” said Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba at his keynote address the night before the healing walk. Just like water rights in California, the development of the tar sands is based on a racist common law. The tar sands belonged to the First Nations people, but Canada has in many ways betrayed the rights of the people in favor of the oil industry. Historically, colonization was often fatal for those who had to suffer it in their daily lives. This is still true for the First Nations people who live by the tar sands. Worst of all, its fatality is part of the intent.

We can stop the destruction of the tar sands by taking action. For example, we can protest the many pipelines being built, that will carry the tar sands oil and further enrich the industry. However, stopping the tar sands does not prevent this same oppression from happening somewhere else. Without an end to colonization once and for all, even ending the development of the tar sands may not be enough. We need to not only stop the current threats, but leave no room for such injustices to continue.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Fighting oppression is no little feat. But perhaps one step is looking deeper at ourselves, especially those of us who are settlers in North America. We should understand the real history of the tar sands and its relationship to colonization, and no longer let the oil industry make a fool of us with its camouflage and illusions.

I have seen the effects of colonization left behind on my family’s ancestral lands, but seeing it so alive and well during the Tar Sands Healing Walk was a shock to my system. Unfortunately it’s not a shock for those who experience it on a daily basis. One of the most powerful messages came from Frank Waln, a musician from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. In the chorus of his song “Oil for Blood” he sang of the effect the Keystone Pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, would have if built:

Oil for blood
Oil for blood
Making you rich, you soil my love
Oil for blood
Oil for blood
My mother is clean, that oil is mud

(Keystone) Everything’s RED
(Pipeline) Now everything’s dead

Industry’s Dreams, Indigenous Nightmares: A Visit to the Alberta Tar Sands


In late June, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. Walking amidst the tar sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience.

This blog post is one of a series, sharing our impressions and reflections.

Our journey in Alberta began in Fort McMurray, a boomtown where the international oil industry has set up a base of operations from which to conduct tar sands extraction. The scale of the industry anchored in Fort McMurray is difficult to overstate: the town sits on one of the world’s largest oil deposits, the Athabasca tar sands. The extraction of Alberta’s tar sands constitutes the world’s biggest industrial project, and massive mining operations directly abut Fort McMurray. 

We landed at the brand new Fort McMurray international airport, where workers were putting the finishing touches on the terminal’s décor, as if the place had been quickly constructed in anticipation of our arrival. Immediately, signs of the tar sands-driven boom were apparent; gift shops featured oil sands tee shirts and advertisements announced new direct international flights to Las Vegas, enabling well-paid oil workers to quickly spend their paychecks on gambling and entertainment.

industry_mags_600x416.jpgMore than 80% of Canada’s tar sand workers are male, and Fort McMurray was full of bulky guys. On the plane, I overheard a pair of oil workers talking about how they had gained over 100 pounds while living in company-provided housing at a tar sands refinery, a by-product of boredom and sedentary machine-operation. As if to justify the weight gain, the workers then turned their conversation to the “couple of houses” each had bought with their tar sands earnings. 

Many of Fort McMurray’s workers seemed focused on buying real estate with oil profits; the town was awash in oil industry publications that combined breathless accounts of lucrative tar sands expansion, advertisements for mining companies, and tips on homeownership and real estate. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, capital investments in the Canadian tar sands have jumped more than 400% since 2006, stretching the municipality’s resources and skyrocketing population and property values in Fort McMurray. Expansion, growth, money, and oil are the watchwords of the day.

Ft._Mac_600x660.jpgOn the edge of town we visited the Oil Sands Discovery Centre, a shrine to the technological process of extracting and refining the tar sands. Sponsored by the Albertan government with heavy support from industry, the Discovery Centre was most remarkable for what it was not included in its displays. As in Fort McMurray and the tar sands industry more broadly, the Oil Sands Discovery Centre lacked any acknowledgement of the climate impacts stemming from the tar sands. It was as if the oil industry town existed in an alternative reality where climate change did not exist and endless expansion of tar sands mining was completely unopposed by the global community.  This was a step beyond climate denialism; it was an outright refusal to even recognize that the concept of climate change exists.

Irony_At_the_Oil_Sands_Discovery_Centre_400x600.JPGIn place of the gaping hole where climate concerns should have been, the Oil Sand Discovery Centre touted Fort McMurray’s incredibly ironic ban on single-use plastic bags, and offered an appeasing video insinuating that oil industry reclamation efforts are akin to the millennia of sacred land stewardship practiced by Indigenous First Nations groups. While we immediately smelled a rat in the oil industries claims of reclamation, it wasn’t until we joined the Athabasca Chipeywan and Mikisew Cree First Nations that the abject hideousness of industry claims came into focus.

When we left the world of Fort McMurray’s oil settlers and joined First Nation host communities at the Tars Sands Healing walk, what we heard and saw laid bare the poisonous horror that lurks beneath the sheen of Alberta’s lucrative tar sands boom and industry’s expansionist dreams.

Part Two, "Indigenous Nightmares", will be posted next week. 



1. Visitors at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray.

2. Oil industry magazines predict growth for Fort McMurray and tar sands mining.

3. Fort McMurray is dwarfed by nearby tar sands mines.

4. An ironic sign at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre.


The Tar Sands Healing Walk: A Photo-Diary

Last week, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. 

Walking amidst the Tar Sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience. We are putting together a series of blogs to share our impressions and reflections. This, our first one, is a photo-diary of the walk.

1. Grand Chief Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Derek Nepinak, Chief Allan Adam and Grand Chief Philip Stewart addressed the walkers at the beginning of our day. Each spoke about the importance of protecting land for future generations and the impacts that Tar Sands mining is having on First Nations Communities in Canada.

2. Aboriginal elders led procession under a banner reading “Stop the Destruction Start the Healing”. Along the way we stopped to pray for the land’s healing with offerings of tobacco, water and song.

3. We walked for more than nine miles around Syncrude’s excavation site, refinery and tailings ponds.


4. Many of the vehicles that passed our walk were transporting ‘potable water’. The local groundwater has been polluted by the Tar Sands mining operations.


5. This ‘Tailings Pond’ contains waste water from the Tar Sands extraction process. The neon work-suited scarecrows have been placed to deter birds from landing on the pond. 1600 ducks died after landing on a Syncrude tailings pond in 2008.


6. We were accompanied on the walk by two First Nations drum groups.

7. The air was thick and heavy with fumes from Syncrude’s refinery.

8. We passed a ‘work camp’ where Syncrude workers live, in the shadow of the refinery.

9. The RAN team, next to Syncrude’s refinery.

10. We passed several areas labeled as ‘reclamation’ sites. These bore no resemblance to the healthy Boreal forest ecosystem that existed before the mine was developed.

Stay tuned for future blog posts sharing our impressions and reflections. 

Canada Approves Northern Gateway Pipeline, Opponents Vow Fierce Resistance

"We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be."

— Alliance of 31 First Nations

This week, despite broad public opposition, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper approved Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. The Northern Gateway pipeline, seen as a backup option to the Keystone XL pipeline that is currently mired down in a political quagmire in the U.S., would ship 500,000 barrels of bitumen a day through British Columbia to the Pacific coast.

The approval sparked loud protest from First Nations groups and environmentalists. Opposition to Enbridge has already been heightened in British Columbia and with the Harper government’s announcement, opponents took to the streets of Vancouver and promised fierce resistance to the pipeline.


First Nations groups in Canada, which have long fought the pipeline, vowed to defend their land and their sovereignty with no surrender. In an unprecedented show of unity, 31 First Nations and tribal councils have signed a letter announcing their intention to "vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project."

Furthermore the Uni’stot’en Clan has maintained a blockade encampment in the path of Enbridge and other proposed pipelines on their territory in British Columbia since 2009. Upon the Northern Gateway announcement they stated they “are prepared to continue to defend their territories against the incursion of government and industry.”

The environmental left has also vowed to fight back against Northern Gateway.  Direct actions, protests and legal battles are being planned to stop the pipeline.

Immediately after the announcement,  environmentalists launched sit-ins in Member of Parliament offices in opposition to the decision. Four were arrested at the office of James Moore, Conservative MP and Minister of Industry.

One of the four was Jackie DeRoo, MBA, a mother and retired businesswoman: “I'd never even been to a protest until Northern Gateway came along and I began to learn about climate change,” she said. “If ordinary citizens like me are willing to get arrested to stop this project, Harper can expect blockades that will make Clayoquot look like a picnic.

At the same time as the Northern Gateway pipeline and Keystone XL campaigns,  Enbridge have lobbied for a system of pipelines to send hundreds of thousands of barrels of tar sands south to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Enbridge has multiple pipelines proposed in the United States.

The oil giants are not backing off on draining the Alberta tar sands of every last drop of oil. Nor should the opposition back off in the slightest.

Photo: Direct action at Minister of Industry James Moore's office

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