Facts About Tar Sands Transportation, Consumption and Refinement in the US

US tar sands consumption is driving the environmental disaster

  • US consumes more oil than any other country in the world
  • Tar sands destruction is fueled by America's addiction to oil: 99% of Canadian tar sands exports go to the US
  • Canada is the largest foreign supplier of petroleum products to the US; about half of those products are derived from tar sands
  • Canada supplies nearly 3 million barrels of petroleum products per day to the US (1)

Tar sands transported by rail, tanker, or pipeline is unacceptably risky

  • Because of the unique nature of “bitumen” (tar sands in its most raw form), tar sands spills are more difficult and costly to clean up than conventional oil spills
  • Enbridge’s 2010 tar sands disaster into the Kalamazoo River has become the most costly onshore pipeline disaster in US history (2)
  • The US’s National Transportation Safety Board has stated the tank cars, called DOT-111 cars, used to move crude oil by rail have a “high incidence of failure during accidents” (3)
  • The number of tankers on our West Coast loaded with tar sands oil would increase 700% if the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge pipelines projects are approved in Canada

Tar sands refineries put community health at risk

  • US refineries are using an extremely toxic and corrosive mixture of chemicals—called a ‘bitumen blend’—that comes from Canada’s tar sands
  • Communities downwind and downstream from tar sands refineries have elevated levels of cancer (4)
  • US refineries using tar sands often produce more intense sulfur dioxide air pollution—today, that pollution isn’t adequately regulated
  • Short-term exposure to elevated sulfur dioxide levels is associated with reduced lung function, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, respiratory illness, deterioration of the lung’s defense systems, and the aggravation of cardiovascular systems (5)
  • Disadvantaged groups are more affected by refinery pollution—the average risk from exposure was 35% higher for people living below the poverty line in refinery communities (6)


1. US Energy Information Administration, “How much petroleum does the United States import and from where?” Retrieved from http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=727&t=6. June 3, 2013.

2. McGowan, Elizabeth and Lisa Song. “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside The Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of, Part 1” Inside Climate News. Retrived from here.

3. Paul L. Stancil, CHMM (2012). DOT-111 Tank Car Design [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from here.

4. Chen, “Cancer Incidence in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta 1995-2006.” February 2009.

5. EPA Enforcement Alert, Volume 3 Number 9. October 2000.

6. Palma, Analysis of Socio-Economic Factors for Populations Living Near Petroleum Refineries. January 15, 2009.

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