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Natural Resources: The Future of Alberta’s Oil Sands


As technology has advanced, the demand for energy has been increasing. It is estimated that today the usage of energy has amplified so much that in no other century or millennium in history was the use of energy as much as it is now. In fact, no other century — no millennium — in human history can be compared with the 20th century for its growth in energy use. Energy consumption is increasing day by day and is different in developed, developing and underdeveloped nations. Additionally, the increasing use of energy is not only putting pressure on the economies but also have an irreversible impact on health and the environment. The current modes of energy production are a major source for emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which is a direct cause of the enhanced greenhouse effect that is responsible for global climate change.

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Technological advancement starting from the industrial revolution has increased the demand for energy. According to a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, it is estimated that 85 percent of the motor oil ends up disposed of improperly in sewers, soil and trash. This is just from one state and if we multiply that by 50 states in the U.S. it can be said that motor oil might well be one of the largest sources of pollution affecting groundwater and U.S. waterways (West, 2007).

Origin of Alberta’s Oil Sands

Alberta’s Oil Sands is located in Canada and is the major resource of crude bitumen. Specifically, it occurs completely inside the sand and carbonate formations in the northeastern part of the region. In general, the oil sands areas are divided into three regions distinct as the Athabasca which is about 4.3 million hectares in area, Cold Lake that forms about 729 thousand hectares and Peace River Oil Sands Areas covering about 976 thousand hectares. In fact, the entire area of oil sands is about 80.000 square kilometers which are almost of the size of the state of South Carolina (National Energy Board 2004).

Alberta’s Oil Sands are of great significance as their formation can be traced back to several millions of years. A set of unique conditions in the pre-historic times was necessary for the formation of oil sands. Similar to the origin of crude oil from the organic matter of living materials, the oil sands also originated from living materials. It is further recorded that the oil formation needs the presence of marine organisms especially the algae and the planktons that are processed for a minimum of one million years at very high temperatures between 50-150 degrees Celsius. Therefore, it can be said that Alberta’s oil sands deposits are the remains of marine life inhabiting an ancient ocean that covered the entire region of Alberta. The unique combination of organic material, bacteria, heat and pressure together with a reservoir for the oil to build up, millions of years ago, provided the right circumstances for the creation of oil. (Alberta Community Development 2005). Hence these are one of the most precious natural resources present in the world today.

Studies have been on to find the age of the source rocks for the oil found in the Alberta oils sands deposits. However, it is still a matter of uncertainty that centers on whether the source rocks are Mississippian that ages about 320 –355 million years, or of Jurassic age which is about 145 –205 million years old. There are also studies that suggest that the origin is probably from a combination of Mississippian and Jurassic age (National Energy Board 2000). It takes several millions of years for the formation of oil sands and is the result of several chemical interactions together with the action of temperature and pressure. The organic material converts into hydrocarbons or oils through a series of reactions (Alberta Community Development 2005).

Significance and Future

Alberta is one of the world’s most important oil resources after the oil sands of Saudi Arabia reserves (Government of Alberta n.pag.). Studies have proven that it has the second-largest concentration of oil in the world and the main source of oil sands deposits. Estimates suggest that Alberta’s oil sands have approximately 173 billion barrels of oil. This oil can be extracted using various in-suit techniques. In general, oil sand is a place where there exist combinations of sand or clay together with water and a substance called bitumen. Studies have proven that bitumen is a substance that will not become viscous or be able to flow till it is heated or diluted. In fact, it is said that this can be one of the most important sources of oil for the present and future if it is used sustainable manner. The large-scale availability of oils sands spread over three major areas of northern Alberta is an economic advantage for Canada.

In recent years, however, there has been a massive extraction process of mining activity that is already disturbed about 500 square kilometers out of the total 140,000 square kilometers. As per the latest estimates in January 2009, there are more than 90 projects that are active in Alberta. Among these, there are five major mining projects and the rest of the projects use a variety of in-situ oil recovery methods. For instance, the oil sands that are found almost near the surface are presently mined and carried by trucks to suitable places where the sand is mixed with hot water. This process helps in the removal of bitumen. Other processes are involved in the extraction of underground oil sands include the use of steam, solvents, or thermal energy. First, the bitumen is made to flow to a point that will help it to be pumped out. Later the oil is extracted using a suitable process.

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It is estimated that about 80% of Alberta’s oil sands can be extracted through various in-situ production. It is only the rest 20 % that will require the mining process for the recovery. Today it is said that the oil resources of Alberta are among the major provider to the world oil supply and a stable energy source for domestic and international markets. It is important to protect this natural resource from disappearing through sustainable development. In the year 2007, the total Alberta oil production was more than 1.8 million barrels per day of which about 1.25 million came from oil sands. The United States is the major procurer of this oil and about 1.34 million barrels per day were exported. On average, it is estimated that the Alberta oil sands provide nine times the returns. For instance, if a dollar is invested it creates about $9 worth of economic activity. Further, it also gives great employment for the local people. It is suggested that every 13 jobs in Alberta one are linked to energy production (Government of Alberta n.pag.).

With the increase of global warming and other environmental problems, awareness is rising among the general public. The reduction of harmful pollutant emissions and carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles are among the top priorities. Consequently, one of the challenges facing the automotive industry is to improve fuel economy, both in terms of conservation of natural resources and to limit pollutants and carbon dioxide emissions (Harrison, 1999). It is important to safeguard the environment and also protect the life on earth. It is only possible through a sustainable and balanced approach towards development. Whether we use synthetic engine oils or traditional oils, it is important to use it in a proper way in order to minimize their impact on the environment.

Global warming is a major challenge of the global community. Significant improvements can occur at the local, community, regional, and global levels if sustainable development is given priority. It is, therefore, very essential for governments to formulate policies that will benefit in long term and reduce the burden on the environment. It is very essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the planet earth along with its life. It is estimated that oil sands create up about 5 % of Canada’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and less than one-tenth of one percent of the total global emissions (Government of Alberta n.pag.).

There are several steps that have been taken towards sustainable development in Alberta oil sands. For instance, a $2 billion venture with the purpose to move ahead steel-in-the-ground carbon capture and storage (CCS) is being developed. It is expected that this project will decrease emissions by five million tonnes in yearly reductions by 2015. This can be comparable to about taking one million vehicles off of Alberta roads. Additionally, about $1 billion is invested in the oil sands research that is expected to contribute to the technology development that can aid in reducing the environmental footprint of oil sands development and increase economic recoveries.

Above all the stringent law is always helpful in bringing a balance in environmental protection and other technological developments. The climate change scheme guarantees environmental security and simultaneously maintains the quality of life and contributes to economic growth. As per the expectations of the present studies, it is said that by the year 2050 there will be a reduction of 200 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The main contributor to this reduction is the Carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility that takes the carbon dioxide emission and injects it deep underground.

Alberta environmental legislation has taken care of the problems of water and has set high standards on the quality. There are strict limits on industrial water usage and protects against the unwanted wastage of water. Additionally, there is a check on the concentration of contaminants that flow out of oil sands. Water is also recycled up to 90 % that further reduces the usage of river water (Government of Alberta n.pag.). Ever since 1990, there have been attempts to decrease carbon emissions. For instance, several projects in the Alberta oil sands have reduced their carbon footprint by some 45% (Dunnahoe).

Scientific innovations have played a major role in the development of Alberta’s oil sands resources that is today a reason for economic growth. Additionally, it is a major source of fuel not only for Canada but for the entire US and also the world. Eventually, government and industry have shared a major role in contributing towards innovative and economic methods that help in the extraction process of the oil sands. One of the most important institutions that are involved in this is the Alberta Energy Research Institute, which is dedicated to a common goal to push innovative technology and programs that will have minimum impact on the environment. It will reduce the impact of greenhouse gases and other emissions, and reduce the consumption of water and gas (Government of Alberta n.pag.). In fact, the main focus of the R&D is to improve the mining equipment, lower energy extraction, reduce thermal inputs, improving the processes, developing automated control systems, recycle the heat wastage and develop efficient and economic alternative energy technologies (Carter n.pag).

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Due to the problems associated with the use of fossil fuels, alternative sources of energy have become important and relevant in today’s world. Alberta is not an exception. It has also put in the research to develop alternative sources of energy. However, there is a further need to steer up the efforts. Today the society is looking towards these alternative sources of energy for taping energy. These are renewable sources of energy and will not exhaust. Also known as non-conventional sources of energy, they cause less emission and are environment friendly. Their use can significantly reduce chemical, radioactive, and thermal pollution. They are feasible sources of clean and limitless energy. Most of the renewable sources of energy are fairly non-polluting and considered clean. However, biomass is a major polluter indoors (TERI).

While burning these fossil fuels produces a readily available and instantaneous supply of energy, it also generates air pollutants including carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide and trioxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas that is thought to be responsible for some fraction of the rapid increase in global warming seen especially temperature records in the 19th century, as compared with tens of thousands of years worth of temperature records which can be read from ice cores taken in artic regions.

Developing resources in an environmentally harmless manner and altering the present insight of the oil sand industry is among the major challenges faced in Alberta. The late energy scheme also offers quite a few alternative actions such as the federal emission standards, “water for life” standards and “land use” framework. These are the methods of appropriate land use to amplify the effectiveness and decrease wastage. However, the main focus is to process the hydrocarbons in a most eco-sensitive manner (Dunnahoe).

As globalization is catching up, sustainable development needs to be emphasized by the global community. The need for oil and other fuels is increasing day by day. Hence it becomes essential for the involvement of the global community and the local government of Alberta in the conservation process. The increasing population has put immense pressure on the limited resources of the earth such as land, water and other natural resources. In fact, the development and enforcement of new conservation policies based on the principles of sustainable development could bring about sustainability.

Work Cited

  1. Alberta Community Development Oil Sands Discovery Center, (2005).
  2. Carter, J.E. The Future of the Alberta Oil Sands (2002).
  3. Dunnahoe, T. What’s the future hold for Canadian oil sands? (2008) Alberta’s Minister of Finance Iris Evans chats with E&P.
  4. Government of Alberta. Alberta’s Oil Sands (2009).
  5. Harrison, R.M. Understanding Our Environment, (1999), 3rd ed, Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry.
  6. National Energy Board (NEB). Canada’s Oil Sands: Opportunities and Challenges to 2015. (2004) Calgary, AB: NEB.
  7. National Energy Board (NEB). Canada’s Oil Sands: A Supply and Market Outlook to 2015. (2000) Calgary, AB: NEB.
  8. TERI, Energy 2006. EduGreen.
  9. West, L. Synthetic or Conventional Motor Oil: Which is Better for the Environment?(2007) Environmental Issues. About, Inc., Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 19). Natural Resources: The Future of Alberta’s Oil Sands.

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"Natural Resources: The Future of Alberta’s Oil Sands." StudyCorgi, 19 Nov. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Natural Resources: The Future of Alberta’s Oil Sands." November 19, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Natural Resources: The Future of Alberta’s Oil Sands." November 19, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Natural Resources: The Future of Alberta’s Oil Sands." November 19, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Natural Resources: The Future of Alberta’s Oil Sands'. 19 November.

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