tar sands


“This is sacred—this Indian land. And it is sacred not just for First Nations, it is sacred for everybody. We are all here, we all share this. We all share in the responsibility.

“Keep using your voices. Keep standing strong.”

Audrey Siegel, Musqueam leader

Hundreds of protestors are gathering to rally against Kinder Morgan’s controversial pipeline survey work on Burnaby Mountain, despite a court injunction and $5.5 million lawsuit. This isn’t just about land exploitation. It’s about intimidation tactics, oil money and undemocratic government. More than anything, it’s about the power of the people to defend our land and our future.

We will not be divided. We will not be defeated.

Photos by Jackie Dives


covering an area the size of england, the tar sands are the second largest oil reserve in the world, with an estimated potential of 173 billion barrels. situated in alberta’s northern boreal forest, and holding almost twice as much carbon as all tropical rainforests, the area is also the most carbon rich terrestrial ecosystem on the planet. 

but to obtain a single barrel of crude oil, two tons of peat and soil must be extracted from the forrest to access the tar sand bellow, and three barrels of water are needed to then separate out the tar from the sand and refine the bitumen. (the trucks in the sixth photo are the size of a house.)

the extraction processes uses more water in one day than a city of two million people, with 90 percent of it then stored in contaminated tailings ponds (large enough to be seen from space) which pollute key waterways like the athabasca river (first and last photos) with 11 million litres of toxic runoff every day.

the process also consumes enough natural gas a day to heat six million canadian homes, and daily generates more carbon dioxide emissions than all the cars in canada combined. it also laces the air with dangerous toxins, poison communities with rare cancers and autoimmune diseases, and destroy critical animal habitats. 

photos by peter mettle, todd korolgarth lenz and yann arthus bertrand. for more information, see “tipping point” on the nature of things, and petropolis 


Over the past four years, the Unist'ot'en clan of the Wet’suwet’en nation have literally built a strategy to keep three proposed oil and gas pipelines from crossing their land. Concerned about the environmental damage a leak could cause on land they’ve never given up, they’ve constructed a protection camp to block pipeline companies. As opposition to the development of Alberta’s tar sands and to fracking projects grows across Canada, with First Nations communities on the front lines, the Unist'ot'en camp is an example of resistance that everyone is watching. 


Indigenous women, speaking for those that cannot speak for themselves. 

Leading the resistance against Kinder Morgan, which wants to tunnel through Burnaby Mountain, on unceded Coast Salish lands to send tar sands oil to terminals near Vancouver, BC.


Unist'ot'en Camp stands firmly in the path of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway.

“The federal government’s approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway is an invitation to conflict—a test of Canada’s will to inflict violence upon the environment and indigenous peoples who have, throughout much of the project’s proposed route, never surrendered their lands.

‘This isn’t just a fight about pipelines. This is a fight about indigenous sovereignty, our sovereignty,’ said Toghestiy.”

Read the article on VICE.com

We warned that one day you would not be able to control what you have created. That day is here. Not heeding warnings from both Nature and the People of the Earth keeps us on the path of self destruction. This self destructive path has led to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Gulf oil spill, tar sands devastation, pipeline failures, impacts of carbon dioxide emissions and the destruction of ground water through hydraulic fracking, just to name a few. In addition, these activities and development continue to cause the deterioration and destruction of sacred places and sacred waters that are vital for Life.
—  Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota, with the Council of Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples in a statement of resistance to environmental destruction, saying there is “no time left to defend the Earth.”

We’re running out of time. Top scientists say we have less than ten years to close the emissions gap. Canada doesn’t care. Harper is focused on protecting the Alberta bitumen industry at any cost. Last week the UN slammed Canada for our poor record.

We have got to do better.

And while our political leaders march ahead on tar sands deals and fund dirty oil advertising, we must do what they have failed to do. We cannot sit by and let them endanger our future.

We must rally together, now more than ever. There is no plan B.


Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline is a test of our government’s will to inflict violence on indigenous people who are defending their land. Most of BC was never surrendered by its first inhabitants and most of the first nations there refuse to let this project through. I wrote this article to provide background info on this inevitable, government created conflict. Photos via Unist'ot'en Camp’s facebook page.

Read it now on VICE.com

TransCanada Pipeline Explosion Shuts Off Gas For 4,000 Residents In Sub-Zero Temperatures
January 27, 2014

A natural gas pipeline operated by TransCanada Corp. exploded and caught fire in the Canadian province of Manitoba on Saturday, shutting off gas supplies for as many as 4,000 residents in sub-zero temperatures.

“We could see these massive 200- to 300-meter high flames just shooting out of the ground and it literally sounded like a jet plane,” resident Paul Rawluk told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Watch a video of the explosion here.

There were no injuries and the area was evacuated as a precaution, according to the National Energy Board. TransCanada said the fire was extinguished by Saturday afternoon, more than 12 hours after it started, but in order to repair the line, they shut off the natural gas supply to several municipalities.

Temperatures dropped to -20 degrees Celsius overnight.

Niverville Deputy Mayor John Funk said that “service is expected to be lost for minimum of 24 hours to multiple days” in a statement on the town’s website. Funk also said that “Manitoba Hydro is asking residents to turn down thermostats and minimize use of electric heaters.”

There is no timeline for restoring regular natural gas services so in the interim, compressed natural gas is being trucked in to the area. “The initial supply will be used to provide gas to critical services such as personal care homes and hospitals, as well as schools or churches being used as emergency warming centers,” the CBC reported.

TransCanada has also been pushing for the approval of its controversial Keystone XL pipeline to transport Canadian tar sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Oil began flowing through the southern leg of the pipeline this week and in a conference call marking the announcement, CEO Russ Girling called Keystone XL “the safest oil pipeline built in America to date.”

As of November, TransCanada had already fixed 125 sags and dents in the southern leg of the pipeline, according to a report by non-profit consumer rights group Public Citizen. And while Girling told reporters on this week’s conference call that the company had “voluntarily agreed” to 57 conditions with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Jeffrey Weise, the agency’s head of pipeline safety, said last year that his agency “has very few tools to work with” and as a result, the regulatory process he oversees is “kind of dying.”

Indeed, a Wall Street Journal analysis released this week found that people discover pipeline spills far more often than the leak-detection technology touted by companies. Based on PHMSA data for 251 pipeline incidents over four years, the WSJ found that nearby residents or company employees were nearly three times as likely to detect a pipeline leak. Leak-detection software, special alarms and 24/7 control room monitoring, on the other hand, discovered leaks just 19.5 percent of the time.


Bill Nye 'the Science Guy' visits tar sands, calls it 'extraordinary exploitation' of environment

American science educator Bill Nye “the Science Guy” is in northern Alberta filming a climate change documentary.

Nye visited the tar sands and after taking an aerial tour of the mining areas told APTN National News it was a “depressive” sight to see.

“Producing all this oil that’s producing all this carbon dioxide, that’s not good from a global stand point,” said Nye.

“And from an environmental point of view locally, it’s astonishing and overwhelming.”

He went on to say that it’s difficult to describe witnessing the scale of industrial activity that is taking place and that he was “amazed” at the size of production happening in the tar sands, and the damage it is causing.

“Furthermore consider all the toxins that are being used to move the fluid around and then they put in these enormous ponds, or lakes, or encampments,” he said. “It’s very much out of nature’s natural state.”

Nye visited the community of Fort McKay First Nation Monday. Fort McKay is encamped by tar sands activity and has suffered the consequences of environmental damages over the many decades since the tar sands were discovered in their traditional territories.

He said after learning of the community’s history and relationship with industry he thinks Fort McKay still has a battle ahead of them.

“I think anybody would say that First Nations have rights that have been abridged or catastrophically curtailed,” said Nye.

However, he added that Indigenous people can have an impact on climate change if their treaties are held up to law.

While in Fort McMurray, Nye noticed the local news headlines regarding the province’s grim financial situation and rising unemployment. The new Alberta NDP government provided its first fiscal update today revealing a deficit of almost $6 billion and growing.

He called it the “boom and bust of oil.”

Nye said hope for the environment may lie in the upcoming Canadian federal election and said “everybody is talking about the very strong possibility” that the Harper government will be voted out.

If that were to happen, new leaders with different views and values regarding the environment would be helpful to address the climate change issue, he said.

“Everybody says they feel like the tipping point’s been reached. Everyone we speak with, where enough is enough kind of thing. But then you have people that are in denial of climate change, who justify all of this extraordinary exploitation to the environment,” he said. “It’s amazing the scale of it, is just very hard to believe and very troubling.”

Nye is one of a growing number of celebrity big names that have visited the Alberta oil sands in recent years others have included actor Leonardo DiCaprio, singer/songwriter Neil Young and South African social rights activist Desmond Tutu.

Nye is working on his freelance film titled Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown. He was joined by National Geographic filming a separate feature.


Last night, the sign marking the border of the Unis'tot'en Camp was damaged by a crude homemade incendiary device. No one was injured, and the perpetrators escaped in their vehicle before they could be identified. According to members of the camp: 

This shot shows the damage done to the sign. The explosion was loud enough for us to feel a slight concussion as well as mistake the sound of the explosion for a gunshot going off near the cabin which is about 100 meters away from this site.

The Unis'tot'en are a First Nation that has enacted a ‘soft blockade’ of their territory. No one outside may enter unless they adhere to the protocol. Members if the Unis'tot'en have defied the Canadian government and several major oil companies by forbidding the construction of pipelines through their territory, most notably the Pacific Trails Pipeline (delayed and entire year due to their efforts) and the Northern Gateway. 

We can only speculate as to the motives behind the attack right now, but the Unis'tot'en’s direct affirmation of sovereignty of their territory should not be seen as insignificant, especially in light of the RCMP attack at Elsipogtog.

Learn more here and here 


A leaked RCMP report names “violent aboriginal extremists” with “anti-petroleum ideology” as key threats to Canada’s national security. I spoke to people identified as “violent extremists” in the report, including the Unist'ot'en Camp and people taking action against Enbridge’s Line 9.

They talk about how law enforcement uses racism to justify its mandate and how Harper’s secret police Bill C-51 is unlikely to crush this resistance.

“We already live in the world that people are afraid C-51 is going to create,” said Alex Hundert.

A long-read on VICE.com

100 Indigenous Nations in US and Canada Join Forces in Opposition of Pipeline Expansion
Standing Rock's Sioux Tribe, the Union of BC Chiefs, and many more Indigenous leaders signed a treaty to prevent expansion of the tar sands.

Across North America, more than 100 Indigenous leaders have signed a treaty against Alberta’s tar sands, effectively putting those who want to build oil sands pipelines—including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—on notice.

By signing the treaty, Indigenous nations agree to help other nations when they face a fight against a major tar sands pipeline.

The expansion of the tar sands “can only happen” if new pipelines are approved, the treaty states. The treaty’s signatories are therefore against the following pipelines that would carry oil sands products to North America’s coasts: Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Alberta Clipper pipelines, TransCanada’s Energy East and Keystone XL pipelines, and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion, “any of which, if allowed, would lead to a major expansion of the Tar Sands.”

Trudeau is under pressure from petroleum advocates and Canada’s Conservative opposition to approve a major pipeline that would carry Alberta oil to international markets—something he has repeatedly said he is in favour of doing, as long as it’s done in a “responsible” way that includes First Nation consultation. But that pressure comes at the same time that a groundswell of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island (the Indigenous name for North America) are rising up against pipeline projects, using both legal challenges and encampments on traditional territory, as seen at Standing Rock, to assert their land rights and delay pipeline construction.

At the treaty signing in Vancouver, the line of chiefs in regalia waiting to add their names “filled an entire room,” according to the National Observer. Leaders were invited to sign in Vancouver, where part of the Trans Mountain pipeline would be built, and Montreal, which sits along the proposed Energy East route. Treaty signatories included Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Chiefs, Standing Rock’s Sioux Tribe, and Grand Chief Serge Simon of Kanesatake, who has stridently opposed Energy East, and who represents a reserve that famously stood up to the RCMP during the 1990 Oka land crisis.

“We are going to stick together and we’re going to protect each other right across the country,” Simon told reporters Thursday, according to the Canadian Press. Simon added that the pipeline resistance would aim to be peaceful.

Continue Reading.


Photographer Stuart Hall captured the Athabasca tar sands in Canada by leaning out of the plane’s window 5,000 feet up —an exhilarating rush despite the nausea bubbling in his stomach.

The Athabasca deposit lies beneath a boreal forest and peat bogs, but you’d never know it from Hall’s gritty photos. The landscape is stripped of color and texture, leaving a vast expanse of gray and black dotted by enormous machines.

Hall shot Giga Project during three week-long visits over three years. “It just goes on forever,” he says. Hall insists he isn’t trying to be political, but his photos nevertheless make you examine the ugly cost of society’s insatiable thirst for oil.

MORE. Disturbing Aerials Reveal Canada’s Vast Tar Sand Mines