Top 10 Facts About the Alberta Oil Sands

Alberta Oil Sands Facts

Below you will find the top ten facts on Alberta's oil sands. If you would like the latest news and analysis on Alberta's oil sands and other related topics, visit our homepage or click here and sign up for our weekly newsletter

FACT #1: The Alberta oil sands have a huge carbon footprint.

According to government agency Environment Canada, greenhouse gas pollution from Alberta oil sands is expected to increase by 124 percent between 2010 and 2030 if left unchecked. By 2030, climate pollution from oil sands could make up 14 per cent of Canada's entire carbon footprint and some 60 per cent of the forecast rise in the nation's greenhouse gas pollution.

FACT #2: The Alberta oil sands produce lakes of toxic sludge. 

A 2013 report concluded that an accident related to the failure of one of the oil sands tailings ponds could have catastrophic impact in the aquatic ecosystem of the Mackenzie River Basin due to the size of these lakes and their proximity to the Athabasca River. Also, according to documents from the Canadian government, the tailings ponds are leaking and contaminating Alberta groundwater.

FACT #3: The contaminated water produced while extracting Alberta's oil sands is so toxic that in April 2008 a flock of migrating ducks landed in a holding pond full of tar sands contaminated water and died.

The owner of the toxic tailings lake, oil sands company Syncrude, was fined $3 million in 2010 for the duck deaths. According to the CBC, “Syncrude lawyer Jack Marshall told the court that the company apologizes for the incident and recognizes it must do much better when it comes to protecting wildlife.”

FACT #4: The Alberta oil sands are holding Canada back on climate change action. Environment Canada projects that climate pollution for all of Canada except the tar sands is set to decline between by 28 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2).

However, climate pollution from the planned expansion of tar sands is predicted to increase by 53 MtCO2 between 2005 and 2020. This will wipe out the climate progress from the rest of Canada and cause an increase, rather than decrease, in climate pollution for at least another decade.

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FACT #5: The toxic tailing lakes are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. Toxic lakes in Northern Alberta span 176 square kilometers and can be seen from space.

FACT #6:  A barrel of oil from the oil sands produces around 14% to 21% more greenhouse gases than a conventional barrel of oil produced in the United States. In 2004, oil sands production surpassed one million barrels per day; by 2015, oil sands production was expected to more than double to about 2.2 million barrels per day. That number is expected to rise to 4.8 million barrels per day by 2030.

FACT #7: The oil sands operations are the fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas in Canada. By 2020 the oil sands will release twice the amount produced currently by all the cars and trucks in Canada.

FACT #8: Indigenous peoples rely on healthy ecosystems for food, water and livelihoods, but the oil sands industry has decimated vast amounts of wildlife habitat and polluted the region’s rivers and streams with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.

FACT #9: Emissions from the Alberta oil sands increased 267 percent between 1990 and 2011, according to Environment Canada, although per-barrel emissions have gone down a reported 26 percent. The overall increase of Canada’s expanding tar sands extraction, however, has the nation’s total emissions set to increase steadily over coming decades.

FACT #10: Climate pollution from producing oil sands oil is projected to hit 104 Mt CO2 by 2020 -  about double the current annual emissions from countries like Norway, Bolivia and Denmark.

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