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Oil Change International credits a growing people's climate movement for slowing tar sands growth. (Photo: Chris Yakimov/flickr/cc)

In Face of Rising Climate Movement, Tar Sands on Life Support: Report

Evidence of struggling tar sands sector suggests opportunity to slow the rate of growth 'significantly'

Deirdre Fulton

With dozens of carbon-intensive tar sands projects delayed or on hold, a new report released Friday confidently declares: "The case for the tar sands is crumbling."

A new analysis by Oil Change International identifies 39 projects—representing more than 1.61 million barrels per day (bpd) of potential tar sands oil production capacity—that companies are currently unable or unwilling to invest in.

That's good news for the climate and the environment, as well as for frontline communities that bear the brunt of the toxic tar sands production.

And it's bad news for the tar sands sector, which now finds itself "struggling to justify many new projects," says Hannah McKinnon, senior campaigner on private finance at Oil Change International.

According to the report, On the Edge: 1.6 Million Barrels per Day of Proposed Tar Sands Oil on Life Support (pdf), the delayed and on-hold projects include three open pit mine projects with a combined capacity of over 450,000 bpd, and over 30 drilling projects with nearly 1.2 million bpd capacity. The total extractable tar sands oil in these projects is almost 13 billion barrels. If all of that resource was extracted and burned, around 7.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide would be emitted—equivalent to 40 years of emissions from 51 average U.S. coal-fired power plants.

Furthermore, the Oil Change analysis found that an additional 550,000 bpd of production capacity is owned by companies that have filed for bankruptcy—"another clear indicator of weakness in the sector," the authors write.

A number of factors have led to this decline, the report says, pointing to plummeting oil prices; shifting politics in the 'tar sands capital' of Alberta, Canada; and the rise of both alternative energy technologies and the grassroots climate movement.

"The combination of citizen action to block pipelines and development and the rising tide of climate policies and alternative technologies, which are together leading to lower oil demand growth and lower oil prices, signal very strong headwinds for an oil source that is both high cost and high carbon," the report reads. Should such conditions persist, it goes on, "the rate of growth may slow significantly in the coming years—potentially avoiding lock-in of a significant amount of [greenhouse gas] emissions."

Still, the authors warn against growing complacent in the face of an industry that will fight tooth and nail to maintain its dominance.

"This report is some good news for the climate, but the battle is far from over. Every day of delay for tar sands projects is a good day for our future, but this is an industry determined to dig it up," said Lorne Stockman, Research Director at Oil Change International. "But while the industry puts its head down and tries to charge ahead, people around the continent are rising up to defend our communities and climate, and their efforts are clearly paying dividends."


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