The fact that conventional oil is becoming prohibitively difficult and expensive to extract should be good news for climate change. If the price of oil goes up it makes financial sense for governments and energy providers to invest in renewables. But there's a problem, it's difficult (and some say impossible) to meet our current energy demands from renewable sources. So we are left with a choice, switch to renewables and also reduce our energy consumption, or continue to find more ways to extract fossil fuels to burn, releasing their carbon into the atmosphere and causing runaway climate change. Unfortunately with our energy use still on the increase, Governments and energy companies are choosing the latter.


Tar sands (also referred to as oil sands) are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy black viscous oil. They are one of the largest remaining deposits of oil in the world but actually extracting the oil from them is difficult, incredibly resource heavy and damaging to the environment. The images to the right show a tar sands development in Alberta Canada. What was pristine wilderness is now huge open cast mines, toxic lakes, pipelines and refineries pumping out 36 million tonnes of Co2 a year and using 349 million cubic meters of water per year which is the same as Greater Manchester. Tar Sands deposits in Alberta are distributed over an area of 140,000 km² – that's larger than England.

Many countries in the world have large deposits of tar sands, including the United States Russia and various countries in the Middle East. However, the world's largest deposits occur in two countries: Canada and Venezuela, each of which have oil sand reserves approximately equal to the world's total reserves of conventional crude oil.


If these resources are all mined the impact will be catastrophic. Greenhouse gases from tar sands being as bad as coal they are the complete opposite of what we should be doing to halt climate change. The top US climatologist, James Hansen, has warned “Exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilise the climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts.”


There is some good news in November 2011 President Obama put on hold a plan to build a pipeline from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The developments of the Alberta fields very much depended on exporting oil to America through this pipeline. This is a significant shift in American energy policy which is usually very influenced by the fossil fuel industry and is a huge victory for the fast growing movement who successfully put pressure on the US government to abandon the pipeline.


Although very little oil from tarsands makes its way to the uk, large amounts of investment is coming from UK banks and corporations. The Royal Bank of Scotland is the world’s 7th largest investor. HSBC and Barclays are also major financers, shell is already heavily involved, and BP have recently announced their entry into the Tar Sands via the Sunrise project..

Tarsands aren't the only example of the extreme lengths that governments and corporations will go to to keep our oil flowing, there's also shale gas and fracking and these have an actual environmental impact that is much closer to home.

The effects of surface mining
Tarsands processing plant
Toxic Lakes
RBS Demonstration