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Tar Sands

Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent

Regular price $20.00 CAD
  • ISBN: 9781553655558
  • Tags: Andrew Nikiforuk, Nature & Environment, Science,
  • Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5
  • Published On: 3/15/2010
  • 280 Pages
  • ISBN: 9781553656272
  • Tags: Andrew Nikiforuk, Nature & Environment, Science,
  • Published On: 29/07/2010
  • 280 Pages

Winner of the prestigious Rachel Carson Environment Book Award.

“Andrew Nikiforuk's Tar Sands... is, in essence, a revolting, blush-making case for Canada to develop integrated energy and environmental regulation suitable for the post-carbon age.”—Globe & Mail

Newly updated, Andrew Nikiforuk's Tar Sands is a critical exposé of the world's largest energy project—the Alberta oil sands—that has made Canada one of the worst environmental offenders on earth.

The United States imports the majority of its oil, not from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, but from its neighbour to the north. Canada has one third of the world’s oil source; it comes from the bitumen in the Athabasca oil sands of Alberta. Advancements in technology and frenzied development have created the world’s largest energy project in Fort McMurray. Much of this dirty oil is being processed in refineries in the Midwest where the proposed Keystone pipeline would run. This out-of-control megaproject is polluting the air, poisoning the water, and destroying boreal forest at a rate almost too rapid to be imagined.

In Tar Sands, journalist Andrew Nikiforuk exposes the disastrous social, political, and environmental impact of the tar sands and argues forcefully for change. Combining extensive scientific research and compelling writing, Nikiforuk takes the reader to Fort McMurray, home to some of the world’s largest open-pit mines, and explores this twenty-first-century pioneer town from the high cost of housing to its more serious social ills, complete with rapturous engineers, cut-throat cocaine dealers, aimless bush workers, American evangelicals, and the largest population of homeless people in northern Canada. He also explains that this micro-economy supplies gasoline for 50 percent of Canadian vehicles and 16 percent of U.S. demand. Readers will learn that oil sands:

  • burn more carbon than conventional oil
  • destroy forests and displace woodland caribou
  • spill and poison the water supply and communities downstream
  • drain the Athabasca, the river that feeds Canada’s largest watershed
  • contribute to climate change

The book does provide hope, however, and ends with an exploration of possible solutions to the problem. And this updated edition Nikiforuk adds a new afterword, a new appendix on the hidden costs of steam extraction, and a response to the criticism he received for the first edition.

Published in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation.

Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has been writing about the oil and gas industry for more than two decades. He is the author of multiple non-fiction books, including Tar Sands, winner of the prestigious Rachel Carson Environment Book Award, Saboteurs, winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction. He was one of the first journalists in North America to document the devastating effects of hydraulic fracturing on rural communities.


"Tar Sands explores the costs and benefits of the current oil sands boom, placing it in the larger context of global climate change and continental energy policy. The result isn't pretty. Not that the writing isn't compelling: it is. You'll find the same combination of comprehensive research, compelling storytelling and entertaining ironythat won Nikiforuk a Governor General's Award for Saboteurs." -Alberta Views Magazine

"I made the mistake of skimming Tar Sands' introductory 'Declaration of a Political Emergency' one night before bed - and couldn't put the book down before I had finished." -Alberta Views Magazine

"Nikiforuk argues convincingly in Tar Sands that neither Alberta nor Canada has come to terms with the true extent of the environmental devastation." -Alternatives Journal

"Nikiforuk . . . took pains to ensure his book went beyond preaching to the converted. Tar Sands begins with a bluntly worded 22-point 'declaration of a political emergency' and ends with a 12-step plan to regain 'energy sanity,' which includes action the general reader can take. In between, Nikiforuk writes not only about environmental and political concerns, but takes the reader into the frenzied boom of Fort McMurray and along the so-called 'highway to hell' that leads to it." -Calgary Herald

"I would recommend reading Andrew Nikiforuk's excellent book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, in which he highlights the fiction of reclamation. I expect the majority of Calgarians would not want tailings ponds in their vicinity, or their water or air to be polluted as it is in northern Alberta." -Calgary Herald

"Award-winning journalist Andrew Nikiforuk explores why, while the world is going green, Canada is going black in Tar Sands, which includes a fascinating look at Fort McMurray's black-gold rush town, often lawless and corrupt." -Canadian Bookseller

"Nikiforuk's book, written in his caustic style of investigative journalism, makes [an] entertaining read, sometimes resembling a political thriller." -Canadian Dimension

"It's an important book, one that every Canadian should read to find out how the world's largest energy project will affect us." -David Suzuki Foundation

"Award-winning author and journalist Andrew Nikiforuk sheds light and warning on the bitumen industry in Tar Sands . . . at the heart of Nikiforuk's scathing criticism of petropolitics are the social and environmental injustices, turning the surrounding community into 'a carbon storm and the planet's third-largest watershed into a petroleum garbage dump.' The shocking claims are not meant as a scare tactic, but rather a call for collective movement, led by the author's insightful 'Twelve Steps to Energy Sanity.'" -E Magazine

"Nikiforuk has a point, and he has guts. He also explains the Tar Sands in a straightforward way - something the cheerful websites of government and industry have been slow to do, apparently with reason. Nikiforuk's language leans towards the incendiary: the oil sands are 'a provincial debacle and a national fiasco'; coal-bed methane wells are 'carpet bombing' farmland . . . The government website wouldn't but it quite like that. And that is exactly why one should buy this book." -Edmonton Journal

"The environmental problems addressed in [Tar Sands] raise the broader issue of redefining man's relationship to Earth, and underscore the connectedness of life whether tortoise, Texan, or tree." -Foreword Magazine

"If you want to be scared, you don't need to watch a horror movie or read the latest Stephen King bestseller. Real terror can be found by simply firing up Google Earth . . . [where] you can see what Albertas Tar Sands look like from space. It's not a pretty sight . . . A recent book by celebrated journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, Tar Sands . . . explores what these grey spots on Google Earth mean to Canada's environment and economy. It's an important book, one that every Canadian should read to find out how the worlds largest energy project will affect us." -Georgia Straight

"The Alberta Tar Sands are a cesspool of pollution. Nikiforuk's elegantly written book delivers all the gory details about toxic lakes, heat-trapping greenhouse gases, and the fiction of reclamation. Tar Sands also reveals how Canada's new status as a petrostate has jeopardized its democracy. His 12 steps to energy sanity should be required reading for every citizen." -Georgia Straight

"Canada has no cohesive energy policy. Nor does it have a cohesive environmental policy. Put the two together, and you get the Tar Sands of Alberta, in all their hideous glory. Andrew Nikiforuk's Tar Sands . . . lays bare the idiocy of this malignant neglect. The book is, in essence, a revolting, blush-making case for Canada to develop integrated energy and environmental regulation suitable for the post-carbon age." -Globe & Mail

"With Tar Sands, Nikiforuk, a Calgary based writer . . . vividly lays out a damning assessment of energy development in Northern Alberta." -Green & Organic Lifestyles

"Read Nikiforuk's book and you'll see why Harper's comment has already won the award for Biggest Understatement of 2009." -Huffington Post

"Nikiforuk's book is important. It's provoking. It should restart the national debate. It is an exhaustively researched, comprehensive, survey of everything about the Tar Sands, compressed into some 180 pages. As you would expect, it is not a pretty story . . . Nikiforuk does not belong to the 'don't worry - be happy' school of thought. He's genuinely concerned about our governments' ability to solve the problem that the Tar Sands present . . . Nikiforuk packs an emotional punch that will leave a mark on any reader." -Island Times Magazine

"Tar Sands tells a well-known story in a new way. We see not only the large-scale environmental destruction that we have come to associate with this mega-project, but also the local social problems that result . . . The book's greatest strength is [his] ability to show the impacts of the Tar Sands on real people." -Literary Review of Canada

"Investigative journalist and national treasure Andrew Nikiforuk documents the exorbitant economic, social and environmental costs of building Alberta's Tar Sands." -Mainsonneuve

"The Calgary author contends that Canada is starting to resemble the petro-states of South America and the Middle East - rich in oil but short on democracy and freedom of speech - and that Alberta's tar-sands development is mismanaged, environmentally toxic, bad for Canada's autonomy and short on long-term benefits for Albertans. Nikiforuk has a point, and he has guts. He also explains the Tar Sands in a straightforward way, something government and industry have been slow to do, apparently with reason." -National Post

"In his 2008 book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, Nikiforuk offers a scathing critique of what he calls the corporate greed and regulatory indifference that have attended development of Canada's vast oil patch. Mr. Nikiforuk spoke with Green Inc. recently about how President Barak Obama, who has promised to pursue energy independence for the United States and who is expected to make a state visit to Canada later this month, might regard the Tar Sands." -New York Times Green Inc. Blog

"Packed with shocking statistics that condemn the Canadian oil industry, 200 pages is more than enough to convince any reader that the Tar Sands are anything but sustainable . . . This book is perfect for anyone who is interested in reducing their reliance on oil products, or who is researching and fighting for change in Canadian mining practices." -Outwords Magazine

"Tar Sands exposes the disastrous environmental, social and political costs of the Alberta oil sands and argues forcefully for a change." -Prairie Books Now

"Tar Sands provides an excellent guide to all of the environmental repercussions of our oil dependency. The political analysis is also good, sounding a warning about our dangerous energy 'interdependence' with the declining American empire . . . " -Quill & Quire

"Nikiforuk believes the Tar Sands should be developed gradually and with far greater environmental sensitivity . . . Nikiforuk paints a picture of the current development as an environmental cesspool." -Regina Leader-Post

"While many Alberta businesses and employees watched with trepidation as the price of oil dropped dramatically over the past six months, Alberta journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk sees a silver lining in a possible bust. With oil sands wealth dwindling, Canada can finally have a national conversation not only about the development of the oil sands, but also on Canada's overall energy policy, he says. The award-winning national magazine writer has authored several books on the oil and gas industry . . . [and] the years of research that went into these books have given him a confident, no-nonsense approach to the oil industry." -See Magazine

"Nikiforuk documents a mind-boggling array of government abuses: mismanagement, graft, and general neglect have contributed to the problem. Further, he catalogues the massive environmental destruction necessary to make Tar Sands exploration a viable (read: profitable) enterprise. His book is at its strongest here, examining the total costs of bitumen." -Socialist Worker

"In his recent book Tar Sands . . . Nikiforuk lands a knockout blow on the kissers of the oil industry, oil-friendly bureaucrats, and petrol-guzzling North Americans." -Sustainablog