Tar sand, also known as oil sand, is a mixture of sand, clay, soil and water that is also saturated with bitumen — a form of crude petroleum. The sand is dug up with huge machinery and undergoes a process to extract the oil from the rest of the material.
Two tons of tar sand is required to make only one barrel — 42 gallons — of usable oil, according to Chevron’s website. The Keystone XL pipeline is just one of many proposed pipelines that would run from the tar sand deposits in Canada to oil refineries in the lower 48 states, spanning many states and ending by the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Environmental groups have cited many different reasons why the tar sands and pipeline projects are an awful idea — both for people and wildlife.
According to Sierra Club websites, the mining process is extremely wasteful and destructive, because forests are leveled and toxic wastewater is produced, which goes back into the ecosystem. Mining for tar sands emits three times as much carbon dioxide than conventional oil extraction. Most tar sand extraction happens in northern Canada, destroying thousands of acres of the Canadian Boreal forest.
The pipeline poses similar risks — it would cut through countless acres of wilderness and pipelines owned by the same company that is well known to spring leaks, which spills crude oil in pristine wilderness.
In 2010, 1 million gallons of heavy crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The original Keystone pipeline spilled twelve times in its first year of operation. Earlier this year, 200,000 gallons spilled into residential streets and lawns in an Arkansas town.
The pipeline has the potential to poison groundwater, where a significant amount of drinking water comes from — not to mention the obvious effects on wildlife. It would cross thousands of freshwater sources, including the Oglalla aquifer, which supplies 81 percent of drinking water in the Great Plains, according to the Sierra Club.
All of these concerns are valid, but I have one more to add. Mining tar sands and piping oil all the way across the country is extremely expensive and inefficient.
The global market has become so dependent on oil that companies have resorted to unsustainable methods of extracting oil, when it would be much more sensible to invest in other renewable sources of energy. Our society is in the habit of short-term thinking. When making the decision about whether to mine tar sands, it seems that no one wondered what kind of effect it would leave on the area. Eventually that source will run out, and where will we go then?
can be reached at