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The Negative Environmental Implications Of The Athabasca Oil Sands

2408 words - 10 pages


“The modern era began with the discovery that started the most brilliant, inventive, and destructive age in the history of mankind. The age of energy.” The Athabasca oil sands were founded in the late 1960s and have now developed into a major player within the Canadian economy, acting as its prominent supplier of crude oil. With roughly 2.5 trillion barrels of oil in the ground, the oil sands are one of the largest deposits in the world. However, a problem arises with the extraction process, as it is both expensive and cumbersome with the presence of bitumen within the oil (a highly viscous, black hydrocarbon). ...view middle of the document...

The reason for this is that there are many more steps associated with the production of synthetic crude, thus larger amounts of fossil fuels must be burned in order to exploit it. For example, in order to make one barrel of oil from the sands, two tons of dirt must be dug up, then transported to treatment facilities, and finally treated through a method known as steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) This entire process emits nitrogen oxide, requires natural gas as fuel for the treatment process, and contributes three times as much carbon dioxide than one barrel of conventional crude oil.
Additionally, as our economy remains to be an energy intensive industry, the amount of energy we consume and greenhouse gas we produce will continue to increase. Though the amount of emissions within Canada has decreased by 26 percent over the past year, the rapid development of the oil sands is quickly overshadowing these positive gains. For example, of the 98 megatons of GHG emissions the fossil fuel industry produced this past year as a whole, the oil sands were responsible for just over 16% of the total. Therefore, as long as development within the industry continues, the size of GHG releases will become larger as lower grades of bitumen are utilized to produce synthetic crude. In direct correlation to this, continental effects will directly occur, such as increased heat waves, coastal storms, shrinking glaciers, and fewer wetlands. Therefore, it is Canada’s obligation to reduce GHG emissions in order to preserve the environment, especially considering the projected industry success of the oil sands in the long run.
The Athabasca River is the largest boreal delta in the world, starting from the Athabasca landing towards Fort McMurray. This particular river is what makes the oil sands possible; in contrast it is the oil sands that are essentially destroying the river. This is because of the large amount of water that is withdrawn for use in surface mining operations. The extraction of bitumen is one of the most water-intensive procedures in the world. As a result open pit mining usually requires twelve barrels of water throughout the entire production process to only create one barrel of bitumen. Though the water that is used in this process is recycled upwards of 18 times, the final result is the consumption of three barrels of drinking water. Therefore, the total intake for the Athabasca oil sands industry alone becomes an overwhelming three million barrels of water per day. Nevertheless, current permits only allow for 2.3 million barrels of fresh water per year, but plans to increase this figure have gone through and set the limit at a value of 3.3 million.
The major concern from this large consumption of water is the negative impact on ecological sustainability. The Athabasca River does not have sufficient volume to satisfy the needs of the oil sands mining operations, let alone the aquatic ecosystem. This specifically applies during the...

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