Tar sands?


Tar sands.

Do these words mean anything to you? They didn’t to me until a few months ago.

Tar sand, called “bitumen”, is sandy earth that has oil mixed in with it. It’s about the consistency of cold molasses.

There is a huge field of tar sand in Alberta, Canada. The field is 54,000 square miles…bigger than England. Just the easy-to-get sands could produce 173 billion barrels of oil.

Getting the tar sand is really hard on the earth, though. All of the trees and plants in the way have to be removed,  the earth and clay is stripped away to uncover the sands so they can be strip mined out. If the sand is too deep to dig out, steam, chemicals and hot water are injected into the ground to heat it up and soften the oil so it can be pumped out. It leaves a barren, toxic mess.

Regular crude oil is usually pumped through a pipeline to move it to a refinery. Tar sand is so thick that it has to be thinned down so it can be pumped. When it’s thinned with chemicals and water it’s called diluted bitumen, or “dil-bit”. By heating it up and using higher pressure than for regular oil the dil-bit can be pushed through a pipeline.

With all the sand and grit, the dil-bit is like hot, toxic sandpaper that can corrode the inside of the pipeline; the higher pressure to move it means a greater chance for the pipe to leak or rupture.

When there is a spill, dil-bit is worse than regular oil. Because of the chemicals mixed with it, the fumes can be dangerous and make people sick or cause respiratory problems. If the spill gets into a river or lake the chemicals will pollute the water. But the dil-bit itself sinks to the bottom, making clean up much more difficult. It has to be scraped up or dredged off the bottom, which is devastating to creatures living there.

A lot of people are against digging up the tar sands. More and more people who live along the pipelines are against it. And now I’m against it because I live on a bay that is at the end of a pipeline that may soon be pumping tar sands here. I’m afraid for the bay, and for the people who live along the pipeline and for the rivers the pipeline crosses.

I’m writing to the elected officials of my town to say I don’t want tar sands coming to New England. I’ve signed petitions with other people across the country that will tell our representatives and the President the same thing.


Here is a poster I made for a rally in my town, and a webpage I put up with information about tar sands.

I’m against tar sands oil, but you should find out more about it and form your own opinion. Maybe you’ll write a letter of your own.

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