From extraction to processing to shipping to combustion, tar sands are far and away the dirtiest form of all fuels. It demands enormous amounts of energy to simply extract and then process into crude that can move through a pipeline. It has a 20-percent larger carbon footprint (PDF) than plain old dirty oil. And it leaves toxic wastelands wherever the sands are removed.
Right now, there's a proposal sitting at the State Department for a giant pipeline that would transect the country, carrying dangerous, toxic tar sands oil 1,661 miles from Alberta, Canada, all the way down to refineries on the Texas and Louisiana coasts. It's called the Keystone XL pipeline, and it's obviously enormously controversial. We'll be following the Keystone XL story very closely, over coming months, so consider this just an introduction.
The latest issue of Mother Jones had a great map of the proposed pipeline's route, annotated with more info about the dangers and threats it poses to the areas that it passes through.
Visit Mother Jones to play with the informative, interactive map.
Earlier this month, 86 environmental groups sent a letter calling on the Obama Administration to reject the pipeline proposal. And just this week, NRDC, the Sierra Club, Pipeline Safety Trust, and the National Wildlife Federation released a report (PDF) showing that "by its nature raw tar sands oil or diluted bitumen is more corrosive and more likely to result in pipeline failures."
Tar sands crude oil pipeline companies may be putting America’s public safety at risk. Increasingly, pipelines transporting tar sands crude oil into the United States are carrying diluted bitumen or "DilBit"—a highly corrosive, acidic, and potentially unstable blend of thick raw bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate—raising risks of spills and damage to communities along their paths. The impacts of tar sands production are well known. Tar sands extraction in Canada destroys Boreal forests and wetlands, causes high levels of greenhouse gas pollution, and leaves behind immense lakes of toxic waste. Less well understood, however, is the increased risk and potential harm that can be caused by transporting the raw form of tar sands oil (bitumen) through pipelines to refineries in the United States.
To learn some more about the tar sands, this NRDC Stop Dirty Fuels page is a good place to start, and this old OnEarth article and more recent Grist piece about the tar sands boom on the Northern Alberta region is riveting and terrifying.