Published in the Ecologist, August 2010. To view the article in its original format, click here.

Climate activists stage mass protest outside headquarters of tar sands funder RBS as campaigners urge holidaymakers to boycott Canada

The protest movement against the environmentally damaging extraction of oil from tar sands was stepped up this week as campaigners targeted the tourism sector, pension funds and the publicly-owned Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

A landscape created by a love of oil in Alberta, Canada

A landscape created by a love of oil in Alberta, Canada

Around 400 people are camped outside the headquarters of RBS in Edinburgh, the largest of the UK bank investors in the oil, gas and coal mining sector. More protestors are expected to arrive at the Camp for Climate Action over the weekend.

A separate campaign, Rethink Alberta, is urging British travellers not to visit the Canadian province, an intensive area of tar sand extraction and the world’s second largest oil reserve after Saudi Arabia, in protest against projects in the area.

The Rethink Alberta campaign is also calling on the UK government to reverse concessions that allow Canadian oil into the UK and to cease funding through banks and the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund, which invests in companies involved in tar sand extraction.

Environmental devastation

Tar sands are deposits of oil-rich bitumen mixed with clay and sand embedded in rocks often buried beneath the surface. Two tonnes of topsoil have to be removed to produce each barrel of bitumen, creating vast open mines. Extracting the deposits is three times more carbon-intensive than conventional oil sources.

Environmentalists have fiercely criticised the operation in Canada, describing it as the ‘single most destructive project on earth’ with knock-on impacts on migrating birds and local communities who are reporting an increase in cancers linked with tar sands compounds.

As well as the forest cleared to install rigs and piping, huge amounts of water are required in the extraction process, creating lakes of contaminated water in the Alberta region covering 170 Km sq – the size of Glasgow – which leak up to 11 million litres of toxic water every day into surrounding water systems.

Corporate Ethics International, who are spearheading the Rethink Alberta campaign, said the UK and Europe could still keep oil from tar sands out of their markets.

‘The proceeds of tar sands exploration are enjoyed by BP and Shell who have major presences in Alberta, and tar sands oil will soon be in the UK – Canada wants to sell its dirty oil to countries in the EU and has been lobbying hard to end restrictions on high carbon fuels like tar sands,’ said executive director Dr Michael Marx.

Useful links 
Rethink Alberta campaign