Saturday, 17 October 2015

Rule #82: Mining Canada's tar sands

Canada has a shit-ton of oil buried within the oil sands of Alberta. The oil sands, however, are a particularly dirty form of oil and extracting it from the oil sands is more environmentally challenging than other methods of oil extraction. So it begs the question; Are the benefits worth the environmental risks? If you ask an investor, the answer is undoubtedly Yes. Ask an environmentalist and I imagine the answer is No.

Consider the following:

What's extracted from the earth in Alberta is called bitumen. A mixture of sand and heavy crude. Processing one barrel of bitumen requires about three barrels of water and the toxic water is then pumped into giant tailings ponds... But I'm sure careful thought has gone into ensuring those toxic ponds never leak into the Athabascan river. So no worries there.
Overall, the oil sands are about 9% more carbon dioxide intensive than the average barrel of oil refined in the U.S. Per day, tar sands operations release as much carbon dioxide as all the cars in Canada and enough natural gas is burned to heat 4 million homes daily. Oil sand extraction relies heavily on open pit mining which destroys immense areas of land. It occupies 140,000 square kilometers, an area larger than all of England. 
I love Canada. But even we, up here in the great white north, aren't above selling out to the almighty dollar. At least Ecuador held out for a while. Ecuador said no to ruining the rainforest and decided to leave the oil where it is. Until lately, that is. They finally caved, stating.. "Ecuador has no easy alternatives to boost oil production and needs more money to continue anti-poverty programmes." Oh well, join the club Ecuador! It's pretty bad when we're taking environmental lessons from a developing country.
Investors must understand the environmental risks relating to the development of the oil sands. If something goes wrong, everyone loses. Investors, the public and the environment.

In the new world, open pit mining for bitumen will be halted until a clean means of extraction can be used. Or better yet, eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels.


  1. Tall order bosh, we gots ta get dem windmill things up an' runnin'...

  2. You said it right! I don't know about windmills, but we'll get there.

  3. Hi, I'm developing a series of short videos interviewing landowners with Enbridge Pipeline Easements in WI. How an expanded easement will affect wildlife and property rights. Will be published online at grassroots environmental sites, YouTube, Vimeo and the like. Sierra Club is a sponsor. Would like permission to use the 2 photos showing mining activity on this page.


Agree? Disagree? Lay it on me!