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New report reveals what the tar sands industry doesn’t want the public to know about its abuse of water in the tar sands

Sep 24 2013

Environmental organizations and First Nations release a fact-based reality check to counter misinformation the oil industry is spreading about water and the tar sands

Toronto, ON – A new report released today by leading environmental organizations and First Nations provides a crucial reality check on water use and abuse in the tar sands. The report, Reality Check: Water and the Tar Sands, sets the record straight on industry claims that misrepresent the tar sands industry’s use of the Athabasca River.

“Industry has totally failed to live up to its promises to regulate toxic tailings lakes,” says Hannah McKinnon, National Program Manager at Environmental Defence. “Every day 11 million litres of toxic liquid waste from the tar sands leaks into the Athabasca River and watershed.”

The report counters claims by industry and industry-affiliated groups about the use of freshwater from the Athabasca River, the toxicity of tailings, the amount of tailings leaking into the watershed, and the willingness of industry to monitor water-related impacts of development.

Tar sands companies used approximately 170 million cubic metres of water in 2011 to extract bitumen – that’s the same as the residential water usage of 1.7 million Canadians. And 95 per cent of the water used in tar sands mining is so polluted it has to be stored in toxic sludge pits. The tailings lakes are so big they can be seen from space.

“Industry is working hard to keep Canadians in the dark while they abuse one of our greatest shared resources – freshwater,” says Ben West, Tar Sands Campaign Director at Forest Ethics Advocacy. “Water is a central part of Canadian identity. It’s an insult that industry thinks of it as a free for all and a dumping ground for leaking toxic waste.”

“As First Nations our cultural and treaty rights are woven together with healthy environments and waterways. Our people are witnessing a significant decrease in water levels, deformed fish, sick animals – all of which damage the vibrancy and health of our community,” stated Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. “Without abundant and clean water, our constitutional treaty rights and culture are in jeopardy. Government and industry need to take responsibility for the damages done and work to restore the health of the delta.”

While governments must be held accountable for inadequate, or absent regulations and weak enforcement of existing regulations, industry has, for the most part, insisted on setting the bar low when it comes to regulation.

“We know that the Canadian Government and the oil industry want to triple production in the tar sands, but they can’t even manage water resources at today’s production levels,” says Daniel Kessler, U.S. Communications Director at “Every day it becomes clearer that tar sands are a threat to our land, water and climate and their reckless expansion plans must be stopped.”

“It is critical that the United States see through the greenwashing efforts of the tar sands industry and the Canadian government and reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” says Elizabeth Shope, advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Approving Keystone XL or other tar sands pipelines would make the United States complicit in these unsustainable water withdrawals and the reckless spewing of toxic pollutants into the Athabasca River and watershed.”

This report is the first in a series of Reality Check reports that will provide the truth about the tar sands’ impacts. Together, the Reality Check reports will counter Big Oil’s misleading PR on tar sands expansion.

Groups involved in the report are Environmental Defence, Natural Resources Defense Council,, Forest Ethics Advocacy, and theAthabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

The report can be found at:


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Naomi Carniol, Environmental Defence Canada,[email protected] 416-323-9521 ext. 258; 416-570-2878 (cell)

Eriel Deranger, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, 780-903-6598

To find out more about Reality Check visit:

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