OIL SANDS in Canada


Canada is an energy giant; it has about 171 billion barrels of oil that can be recovered with today's technology, Of that, 165 billion barrels are in the oil sands. There are two different methods of producing oil sands:

  1. Open-pit mining - Bitumen that is so close to the surface that it can be mined.
  2. Situ - bitumen too deep underground that it has to be extracted in specific ways.

80% of bitumen is recoverable through situ production, and only 20% is recoverable by open-pit mining.

Open-pit Mining

Open-pit mining is very similar to coal mining. They have large shovels that scoop up the bitumen into trucks, where it's taken, broken down and then thinned out. The bitumen goes to a plant where the bitumen is separated from the other components and upgraded to make synthetic oil.

Situ Productions

In-situ projects are less disruptive than open pit mines, and account for 80% of Alberta’s oil sands extraction. There are 2 ways to extract oil in situ productions.

  1. Directional Drilling - About 20 wells are drilled in one location and pumped up.
  2. Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) - A horizontal pipe pumps steam underground, which liquefies the bitumen and brought back up with a second pipe. This is how majority of situ operations are done.


Half of the bitumen produced is upgraded to synthetic oil since most refineries in Canada were designed to process conventional light crude oils. Upgraded oil used as a replacement for conventional crude oil to make gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and heating oil. Upgrading requires the right temperature, pressure and catalysts to crack the big molecules into smaller ones. Adding hydrogen and removing carbon from the oil creates hydrocarbon molecules like those in light oil. There are 2 steps in upgrading:

  1. First, coking or hydro-cracking is used to break up the molecules. Coking removes the carbon, while hydro-cracking adds hydrogen.
  2. Then, hydro-treating is used to stabilize the oil and remove impurities such as sulfur.

Bitumen and some other oils are too heavy and thick to flow through pipelines. So the bitumen would have to be diluted with condensation or other natural gas liquid before it's transported. Once mixed with diluent, the diluent does not separate so it would be a new mixture. Any extra oil that is upgraded and isn't used for cars are used to manufacture thousands of products like plastics, paints, rubber, fertilizers, etc.


A common oil worker named Lliam Hildebrand started a non-profit organization called 'Iron and Earth' He is an environmentalist living in B.C but he works in the oil industry in Alberta, he hates it but he needs the money. So he started 'Iron and Earth' and started using solar panels as an energy source instead of oil and other resources.

“It's just another resource. I mean if we found another magical fluid in the ground, we would exploit it. So why are we not exploiting the renewable energy sector as well the same we do oil and gas?" ~Joseph Bacsu, Iron and Earth

Their goal is to install 100 solar projects on public buildings in Alberta and retrain 1000 oil sand workers to help create and install new technology.

“My dream is that one day i’ll be able to go to my union hall, and have a renewable energy job.” ~Lliam Hildebrand, Iron and Earth


The extraction and production speed of oil from oil sands have been increasing trying to keep up with the demand. However, extraction hurts the environment and there has been different leaders trying to maintain the extraction and production speed at a moderate level.

Around Fort McMurray, Alberta there is about 6400 First Nation residents and 7 Metis locals, which is about 5000 to 6000 residents. They have been arguing about the horrid quality of life because of the oil sands. Since Fort McMurray was downstream to the oil sands, first nations are worried about the contaminated water and believe that being so close to the oil sands is leading to health problems. Because of all the damage the oil sands have done the tax in Alberta has increased (housing tax, sales tax, etc.)


Canada exports about two-thirds of its oil to the United States. About 3.4 billion barrels of oil gets sent to the US everyday. Canadian oil now accounts for 45% of all US crude imports, from about 30% in 2013. Liquid pipelines are used to transport oil that comes from the oil sands after they are upgraded and turned into gasoline or other petroleum products. Half of the oil used in Canada is imported from other countries. The western part of Canada gets their oil from Canada, but is sent to the US to be refined before coming back to Canada. The eastern part of Canada is dependent on oil coming from Saudi Arabia, Africa and Venezuela. Canada sends and receives a lot of natural resources every year. In 2015, Canada exported $231 billion worth of natural resources, mainly to China, USA, and United Kingdom.


Oil is one of the nonrenewable resources that Canada produces. Once the tar is removed and upgraded it is now crude oil. For a car to use this oil it must be burned and once the oil is burned it goes into a chemical change and its physical properties change and it can no longer go back to its original state.


By the year 2020, the oil sands will hopefully have generated 174 000 industry specific jobs and Alberta's population is growing because of all the job opportunities with a net migration of 62 000 and Ontario's net loss of 34 000 and for every job created in the oil sands, two and half more jobs will be created across Canada.

In 2015 $107 billion was invested in the natural resources department and of that $90 billion is for energy resources. The government makes about 27 billion dollars a year from the natural resources. (2010-2014)The energy sector accounted for 27.6% of Alberta's GDP in 2011. Over the next 25 years Ontario could earn:

  • $1.3 billion per year in government revenue from economic activity related to oil sand projects.
  • $31 billion in provincial and municipal taxes generated from economic activity related to oil sands.

These taxes will help pay for public services (healthcare, education, etc.) and from now on for every job created in the oil sands, two and a half more jobs will be created across Canada.


Conventional oil is easier to extract because it is already in a liquid state. it doesn't have to be heated to extract it

It's said that oil sands use oil as much as they produce it. On a lifetime basis, a gallon of gasoline made from tar sands produces about 15% more carbon dioxide emissions than one made from conventional oil.

Every gallon of gasoline produced by tar sands, about 5.9 gallons of fresh water is used, (extracting, upgrading and refining) which is three times more water used than conventional oil. When situ mining is used, wastewater is stored in the same well the bitumen is extracted from risking contaminated groundwater if a leak occurs.

The ‘energy returned on investment’ (EROI) for conventional oil is for every 25 units of oil-based energy is obtained for every one unit of other energy that is used to extract it.(25 to 1) The EROI for oil sands (surface mining) is for every five units or oil-based energy is mined for every 1 unit of other energy that is used to extract it (5 to 1) It's even worse for situ productions, the maximum average ratio is 2.9 to 1. So one unit of natural gas is needed to create less than three units of oil-based energy.

"They have to use a lot of natural gas to upgrade this heavy, sticky, gooky almost tar-like stuff to make it fluid enough to use," - Charles Hall, professor at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

The world currently burns through an estimated 88.25 million barrels of oil per day and about 700 000 barrels per day is being used in the year 2000 in Canada but in 2013 it was 1.7 million. This shows the rapid usage and growth of oil sand extractions. At the world's current rate of oil consumption—32.2 billion barrels per year—Canada's tar sands oil reserves remain at a finite 168.6 billion barrels, enough to keep the world fueled for less than six years. The international energy agency project that by 2040 the world will need 32% more energy than is being produced today

What You Can Do To Cut Back

  • Start carpooling when you can - doing this can also help reduce traffic jams, which is a large factor of CO2 emissions
  • Buy local products - Avoid the transportation (oil use)
  • Buy used products - reduce oil use in transportation and production.


Athabasca is the world's biggest and most developed oil sand. It's about the same size as Florida.
Created By
Dalia Hamour


Created with images by skeeze - "oil pump jacks energy industry" • skeeze - "solar panel array power sun" • skeeze - "money euros finance" • L.C.Nøttaasen - "Colorful Old Oil Barrels"

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