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A Map of Alberta’s Oil Sands: Where to Find Them

The Location Of Oil Sands In Alberta

The Alberta oil sands map shows that the oil sands are located in northeastern Alberta. They can be divided into three distinct regions: Athabasca, Peace River and Cold Lake. Combined, they cover an area of more than 142,000 square kilometres.1 

Alberta’s oil sands have the third-largest amount of proven oil reserves in the world, trailing only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.2 Alberta is now the world’s fifth-largest oil-producing region3, and it accounts for about 60 per cent of Canada’s total oil output.4 

Where are the oil sands located?

Athabasca is the largest and most industrialised area of Alberta’s oil sands.5 It is located in the boreal forest that surrounds the northern Alberta town of Fort McMurray.6 It stretches as far east as the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.7 Some of the Athabascan oil sands are close enough to the surface to be surface mined.8 Alternate methods such as in situ mining must be used to extract the bitumen from other areas.9 

You can find the smaller Peace River oil sands to the west of the Athabascan region. Alberta oil sands maps reveal the Cold Lake area to the south-west.10 The deposits here are 300 to 600 metres below the surface, and they require in situ techniques for extraction.11 

Concerns about Alberta’s oil sands regions

Oil sands and bitumen mining is controversial because of concerns around its potential environmental impacts.12 Extracting and refining bitumen from oil sands produces significantly more greenhouse gasses than conventional crude oil.13 Increasing emissions from the oil and gas sector means it is unlikely that Canada will meet its 2030 target under the Paris Climate Agreement.14 

The Location of Oil Sands in Alberta

Another issue with oil sands in Alberta is the enormous and toxic tailings ponds that the industry produces.15 Mining operations are highly water-intensive, and the tailings ponds now cover an area greater in size than Boston and Manhattan combined.16 With each barrel of oil that the industry extracts, another 1.5 barrels of waste are added to the tailings ponds.17 The toxic mix, that includes naphthenic acids and heavy metals, is leaking into nearby groundwater.18 

What’s next for the region?

Since oil prices crashed in 2014, costing around 35,000 jobs in Alberta, the region’s reliance upon oil sands has declined.19 This downturn has been compounded by the fall in production in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.20 Investors have withdrawn support for the industry, as criticism of their carbon intensity and environmental impact grows.21 

An increasing number of oil and gas workers are retraining to work in the renewable energy sector.22 This area has experienced considerable development in recent years. Alberta’s installed renewable electricity capacity almost doubled in size between 2005 and 2018, with further expansion under way.23 Some figures estimate that Alberta will become the largest wind and solar producer in Canada by 2025.24 A transition to clean energy would help Canada meet its net-zero carbon emission goals, minimise their environmental impact and create new jobs to replace those lost in the oil sector.

Sources

  1. CAPP. (2019). What Are the Oil Sands | Canada’s Oil Sands Facts & Information. [online] Available at: https://www.capp.ca/oil/what-are-the-oil-sands/.
  2. www.alberta.ca. (n.d.). Oil sands facts and statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.alberta.ca/oil-sands-facts-and-statistics.aspx#:~:text=Alberta [Accessed 20 Jan. 2021].
  3. Environment. (2019). This is the world’s most destructive oil operation—and it’s growing. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/alberta-canadas-tar-sands-is-growing-but-indigenous-people-fight-back/#:~:text=If%20Alberta%2C%20with%20its%20population [Accessed 20 Jan. 2021].
  4. Krauss, C. (2020). Canada Oil-Sands Plan Collapses Over Politics and Economics. The New York Times. [online] 24 Feb. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/24/business/energy-environment/frontier-oil-sands-canada.html.
  5. CAPP. (2019). What Are the Oil Sands | Canada’s Oil Sands Facts & Information. [online] Available at: https://www.capp.ca/oil/what-are-the-oil-sands/.
  6. Nasa.gov. (2011). World of Change: Athabasca Oil Sands. [online] Available at: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/world-of-change/Athabasca.
  7. CAPP. (n.d.). What Are the Oil Sands | Canada’s Oil Sands Facts & Information. [online] Available at: https://www.capp.ca/oil/what-are-the-oil-sands/#:~:text=Canada.
  8. Alberta.ca. (2019). The Location of Oil Sands – Oil Sands – Alberta’s Energy Heritage. [online] Available at: http://history.alberta.ca/energyheritage/sands/origins/the-geology-of-the-oil-sands/the-location-of-oil-sands.aspx.
  9. Alberta.ca. (2019). The Location of Oil Sands – Oil Sands – Alberta’s Energy Heritage. [online] Available at: http://history.alberta.ca/energyheritage/sands/origins/the-geology-of-the-oil-sands/the-location-of-oil-sands.aspx.
  10. CAPP. (n.d.). What Are the Oil Sands | Canada’s Oil Sands Facts & Information. [online] Available at: https://www.capp.ca/oil/what-are-the-oil-sands/#:~:text=Canada.
  11. Alberta.ca. (2019). The Location of Oil Sands – Oil Sands – Alberta’s Energy Heritage. [online] Available at: http://history.alberta.ca/energyheritage/sands/origins/the-geology-of-the-oil-sands/the-location-of-oil-sands.aspx.
  12. energyeducation.ca. (n.d.). Environmental impacts of oil sands – Energy Education. [online] Available at: https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Environmental_impacts_of_oil_sands#:~:text=The%20environmental%20impact%20of%20the [Accessed 20 Jan. 2021].
  13. energyeducation.ca. (n.d.). Environmental impacts of oil sands – Energy Education. [online] Available at: https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Environmental_impacts_of_oil_sands#:~:text=The%20environmental%20impact%20of%20the [Accessed 20 Jan. 2021].
  14. Environment. (2019). This is the world’s most destructive oil operation—and it’s growing. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/alberta-canadas-tar-sands-is-growing-but-indigenous-people-fight-back/#:~:text=If%20Alberta%2C%20with%20its%20population.
  15. Environmental Defence. (n.d.). Report: Alberta’s Tailings Ponds. [online] Available at: https://environmentaldefence.ca/report/albertas-tailings-ponds/.
  16. One trillion litres of toxic waste and growing. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/media-uploads/albertatailingspondsreportfinal.pdf.
  17. One trillion litres of toxic waste and growing. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/media-uploads/albertatailingspondsreportfinal.pdf.
  18. Environmental watchdog report says Alberta oilsands tailings ponds are tainting groundwater | CBC News. (n.d.). CBC. [online] Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/oilsands-tailings-groundwater-contamination-1.5711471 [Accessed 20 Jan. 2021].
  19. Yale E360. (n.d.). As Oil Industry Swoons, Tar Sands Workers Look to Renewables for Jobs. [online] Available at: https://e360.yale.edu/features/as-oil-industry-swoons-tar-sands-workers-look-to-renewables-for-jobs.
  20. www.ft.com. (n.d.). Subscribe to read | Financial Times. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/705a6403-0d42-4cc4-bbac-0cf986b86ac5 [Accessed 20 Jan. 2021].
  21. www.ft.com. (n.d.). Subscribe to read | Financial Times. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/705a6403-0d42-4cc4-bbac-0cf986b86ac5 [Accessed 20 Jan. 2021].
  22. Yale E360. (n.d.). As Oil Industry Swoons, Tar Sands Workers Look to Renewables for Jobs. [online] Available at: https://e360.yale.edu/features/as-oil-industry-swoons-tar-sands-workers-look-to-renewables-for-jobs.
  23. Yale E360. (n.d.). As Oil Industry Swoons, Tar Sands Workers Look to Renewables for Jobs. [online] Available at: https://e360.yale.edu/features/as-oil-industry-swoons-tar-sands-workers-look-to-renewables-for-jobs.
  24. Evans (c_evans), C. (n.d.). Battered oil sands region gears up for rapid renewables growth | Upstream Online. [online] Upstream Online | Latest oil and gas news. Available at: https://www.upstreamonline.com/energy-transition/battered-oil-sands-region-gears-up-for-rapid-renewables-growth/2-1-873918 [Accessed 20 Jan. 2021].

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