Canada’s Oil Sands

The other day, on NPR, I heard a story about Canada’s Oil Sands. Stories
of massive dump trucks, 3 mile wide pits, 4 tonnes of material per barrel of oil
and other such “who would bother doing this” tales piqued my interest. I looked
into this facinating industry/problem a bit further and thought I’d share
some of what I learned here.

To produce one barrel of oil:

  • 4 tonnes of material is mined
  • 2-5 barrels of water to extract bitumen
  • Enough natural gas to heat 1.5 homes for 1 day

75% of fuel produced is used for transporation of fuel

Oil sand mining increased Canada’s green house gas emissions by 24% since 1990.

$5BN dollar tax break – first $5BN is tax free. Canadian government get’s about $0.50 cents per barrel in revenue.

45 meters of earth removed to access 50 meters of oil sand

Pits 100 meters deep and miles across – the largest pits on earth.


Pit mine photo from Pembria Watch
Note: Box shows truck

These pits and talling pools are clearly visible from space

Operations use 3 times more water than the City of Calgary each year, much of that water is toxic and stored in enormous talling pools.  This water is extracted from the Athabsca River – threatening national parks around Jasper, Banff in Canada and Glacier National Park on the US/Canada border.

174 billion barrels could be recovered (with new methods possibly 315 billion barrels eventually) – second only to Suadi Arabia’s 260 billion barrel reserve.  Production capacity is 5 million barrels a day.

Even given all of this, oil from sands mining is extremely profitable as long as oil remains over $25/barrel.

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5 Comments

matt wDecember 12th, 2005 at 3:47 pm

Thanks – very informative. The Oil book I read touched on this, but I think that was before it had become a major operation.

CarrieDecember 12th, 2005 at 7:16 pm

I read a National Geographic article on this about a year ago. And then tried to forget all about it. Crazy, eh? Thanks!