OIL SANDS
The Case for Caution
Saskatchewan Environmental Society
What are oil sands?
A dense, sticky mixture of sand,
water and tarry material found
underground
Bitumen
Source: Scientific American, October 2009
A Grain of Oil Sand
Bitumen Film
Water Layer
Sand Particle
Source: Canadian Centre for Energy Information
Canada has the second
largest reserve of crude
oil in the world.
Source: Athabasca Oil Sands Corporation
Biophysical Features of the Region
www.chrs.ca/Rivers/Clearwater (Website of Canadian Heritage River Systems)
Clearwater River Valley
www.chrs.ca/Rivers/Clearwater (Website of Canadian Heritage River Systems)
The Clearwater River Valley and the nearby oil sands area are a
source of valuable archaeological sites
www.chrs.ca/Rivers/Clearwater (Website of Canadian Heritage River Systems)
Oil Sands
Projects
Mining
In-Situ
Mining Process
Source: Shell Canada
Digging and transportation of oil sand ore
Oil sands is a source of contamination for many birds, as well as a primary
cause of fragmentation of their breeding habitat.
Source: The Waters That Bind Us (Pembina Institute)
Suncor’s Operation At Fort McMurray
Photo Credit: David Dodge, Pembina Institute
The Governments of Alberta and Canada permit waste disposal in tailings
ponds that have become like lakes.
1.8 billion liters of tailings is produced each day.
Photo Credit: Pembina Institute
Reference: The Tar Sands Leaking Legacy by Matt Price (2008) Refer to Page 8.
Environmental Defense and Pembina Institute estimate that 11 million liters
of contaminated water per day leak from tailings ponds into the larger
environment.
Photo Credit: Oil Sands Myths: Clearing The Air (Pembina Institute, 2009)
Reference: The Tar Sands Leaking Legacy by Matt Price (2008) Refer to page 2.
Suncor’s Tar Island Dyke separates an oil sands tailings pond from the Athabasca
River. We do not expect tailings ponds to be part of oil sands in Saskatchewan, but
this photo speaks to how the Government of Canada has regulated the industry.
Tailing
pond
Athabasca
River
Tar Sands from Space
Tailing
Ponds
Athabasca
river
Source: Google Maps
In-Situ process – Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage
Source: The Pembina Institute
Heavy use of water – where does
it come from
In-Situ production
Source: Alberta Oil Magazine
The Central Facility of the Opti-Nexen
In Situ SAGD Project
Source: Pembina Institute and David Dodge
Impacts
on the
Environment
The Central Facility of the Opti-Nexen
In Situ SAGD Project
Source: Pembina Institute and David Dodge
SAGD Oil Sands And Forest Fragmentation: 80% Of Lands
Are Within 250 Metres Of Industrial Infrastructure
Photo Credit: Pembina Institute/David Dodge
Northeast Alberta Species In Decline
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Lynx
Caribou
Marten
Fisher
Wolverine
Boreal Chickadee
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-Breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Various Warblers
Source: Richard Schneider and Simon Dyer. Death by a Thousand Cuts (2006). Refer to page 13.
Photo Credit: Google Images
Woodland boreal caribou in the oil sands areas of
northern Alberta are in decline
Source: Pembina Institute and Wayne Lynch
Pipeline Gathering System
For Bitumen Extraction
Source: Pembina Institute & Petro Canada
Species Decline:
Lynx numbers drop significantly in regions of the boreal forest
subjected to industrial development.
Photo Credit: Pembina Institute and David Dodge
An aerial acrobat and a member of the goatsucker family, Chordeiles minor (common night
hawk) is classified as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in
Canada. It inhabits the proposed oil sands area in northwest Saskatchewan.
Source: Nature Canada Web Site; Photo by Dick Canni
The Lesser Scaup breeds in northwest Saskatchewan and will be vulnerable to oil sands. The
Scaup has faced a 70% decline in population in North America over the past 50 years.
Photo Credit: Google Images
Road construction, construction of water crossings and pipeline
construction can cause soil erosion and increase the sediments
entering surface water.
Scope of Water Impacts
• Steam injection can lower aquifer levels in the vicinity of
the source well, in turn creating a reduction in the water
levels of nearby lakes, ponds and wetlands.
• Aquifer water quality can be damaged by well blow outs.
• Thermal plumes created during bitumen extraction can
mobilize arsenic.
• Bitumen under pressure may leak into permeable
aquifers.
• Sludge and solid wastes disposed of in landfills could leak
over the long term.
Air Pollution
Airborne pollutants from oil sands plants include volatile organic compounds,
particulate matter, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide.
Opti-Nexen Upgrader, Alberta
Photo Credit: Pembina Institute: David Dodge
Greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands are at least triple those from
conventional oil. For many in situ plants oil sands plants, greenhouse gas
emissions can be even higher.
Photo Credit: David Dodge, Pembina Institute
Comparison of GHG emissions resulting from
production of oil
Acid precipitation can take place hundreds of miles
away from the emission source
Slide Credit: www.jamesglass.org
Impact of acid rain on lakes
• Bacteria, algae, insects, plants, clams, snails,
crayfish, frogs negatively affected
• Fish can starve because of food depletion
• Fish and their eggs poisoned
• Different species affected at different levels of
acidity
Emission
Acid
deposition
SO2
H2O2
PANs
NOX
O3
Others
Direct damage
to leaves
and bark
Reduced
photosynthesis
and growth
Increased
Susceptibility
to drought,
extreme cold,
insects, mosses,
and disease
organisms
Soil acidification
Leaching of
soil
nutrients
Acid
Tree death
Release of
toxic
metal ions
Root
damage
Reduced
nutrient
and
water
uptake
Impact of
Acidic
Deposition
on
Ecosystems
Summary of Environmental Impacts
From Oil Sands
• Forest fragmentation and loss of boreal forest habitat
/ many species in decline
• Loss of lands that deserve protection or have high
alternative economic values
• Risk of aquifer contamination and decline in surface
water quality
• Sulphur and nitrous oxide emissions result in acid
rain and damage to northern lakes.
• Unusually high greenhouse gas emissions compared
to conventional oil production
The question:
• Is it worth it?
• Would it make more sense to concentrate on
developing cleaner sources of energy?
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Oil sands: the case for caution - Saskatchewan Environmental Society