Tar Sands | Publications | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Tar Sands

Updated with new material throughout, winner of the prestigious Rachel Carson Environment Book Award.

Andrew Nikiforuk's Tar Sands is a critical exposé of the World's largest energy project — the Alberta oil sands — that has made Canada one of the worst environmental offenders on earth.

"Andrew Nikiforuk reveals the true costs of America's oil addiction. Tar Sands tells an important story with passion and wit." —Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

The United States imports the majority of its oil, not from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, but from its neighbour to the north, Canada. Canada has one third of the world's oil source; it comes from the bitumen in the oil sands of Alberta. Advancements in technology and frenzied development have created the world's largest energy project in Fort McMurray where, rather than shooting up like a fountain in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, the sticky bitumen is extracted from the earth. Providing almost 20 percent of America's fuel, much of this dirty oil is being processed in refineries in the Midwest. This out-of-control megaproject is polluting the air, poisoning the water, and destroying boreal forest at a rate almost too rapid to be imagined.

In Tar Sands, journalist Andrew Nikiforuk exposes the disastrous environmental, social, and political costs of the tar sands and argues forcefully for change. Combining extensive scientific research and compelling writing, Nikiforuk takes the reader to Fort McMurray, home to some of the world's largest open-pit mines, and explores this twenty-first-century pioneer town from the exorbitant cost of housing to its more serious social ills. He uncovers a global Deadwood, complete with rapturous engineers, cut-throat cocaine dealers, aimless bush workers, American evangelicals, and the largest population of homeless people in northern Canada. He also explains that this micro-economy supplies gasoline for 50 percent of Canadian vehicles and 16 percent of U.S. demand. Readers will learn that oil sands:

  • burn more carbon than conventional oil,
  • destroy forests and displace woodland caribou,
  • poison the water supply and communities downstream,
  • drain the Athabasca, the river that feeds Canada's largest watershed, and
  • contribute to climate change.

The book does provide hope, however, and ends with an exploration of possible solutions to the problem. And this update edition Nikiforuk adds a new afterword, a new appendix on the hidden costs of steam extraction, and a response to the criticism he received for the first edition.

You can buy this book online at chapters.indigo.ca or amazon.ca, or find it at your local bookstore.