Threat of Tar Sands Pipelines

Tar sands are some of the worst fossil fuels, and are absolutely poisonous to the environment. Greenpeace has released an analysis showing where multiple tar sands oil pipelines would threaten water resources in the U.S.


Map of 373 U.S. hazardous liquids pipelines spills from 2010 to present for TransCanada (green), Kinder Morgan (purple) and Enbridge (blue).

Summary Findings:

  • Oil spills anywhere pose serious risks to human health and the environment, and oil spilled into bodies of water is difficult to fully clean up. Diluted bitumen transported from Canada’s tar sands fields represents a particular threat to water resources along the routes of proposed pipelines.
  • Analysis of public data shows that the three companies proposing to build four tar sands pipelines — TransCanada, Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, and their subsidiaries — have seen 373 hazardous liquid spills from their U.S. pipeline networks from 2010 to present.
  • These spills released a total of 63,221 barrels of hazardous liquids during that time period — including Enbridge’s 20,082 barrel diluted bitumen spill into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.
  • The U.S. crude oil pipeline system as a whole has averaged one significant incident and a total of ~570 barrels released per year per 1000 miles of pipe, over the past 10 years.
  • Assuming these rates, the Keystone XL pipeline could expect 59 significant spills over a 50-year lifetime. Similarly, the Line 3 Expansion could see 51 significant spills over a 50-year lifetime.
  • Studies have found that a diluted bitumen spill into water is even more difficult to clean up than a conventional crude oil spill, due to the fact that bitumen sinks in water.

The mining and processing of bitumen from Canada’s tar sands is environmentally destructive and highly carbon-intensive when compared to conventional crude oil. When first proposed in 2008, the Keystone XL pipeline provoked wide-spread opposition both in Canada and the U.S., eventually leading to President Obama’s 2015 decision to reject TransCanada’s permit application. President Trump has attempted to revive Keystone XL via executive order. Additionally three other tar sands pipelines — Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain, Enbridge’s Line 3 expansion, and TransCanada’s Energy East — are in various stages of development. Construction of one or more of these pipelines could lead to the expansion of the tar sands, with serious consequences for communities and the climate.