Chapter 4.3: Alberta`s Tar Sands

While the use of alternative sources of clean energy is on the rise, the current world economy and the modern societies it supports continue to depend on fossil fuels.  But fossil fuels are a finite resource.  What took millions of years to create is being extracted at rates that could consume the remaining Estimated Ultimately Recoverable (EUR) global oil during your lifetime.  The majority of studies suggest that world oil production is likely to peak sometime between 2010 and 2030.  But many of these predictions failed to consider the development of new technologies that can extract harder-to-reach fossil fuels.  As obtaining oil from more traditional locations like oil fields has become more limited or difficult due to geopolitical challenges, more attention has been focused on alternatives like oil shale and tar sands. Called “synfuels” in earlier decades, these fossil fuels are held in subsurface deposits that must be extracted for use, resulting in both localized and widespread environmental impacts.

Background Materials:

The basics:

Additional background and local perspective:

How the plunge in oil prices is affecting the tar sands:

Textbook References and Links:

Exercise 3: The Alberta Department of Environment and Parks interactive oil sands map interface:

Link to the Global Forest Watch interactive map:

Exercise 5: Kurek et al. overview: and full article at

Exercise 8: AOSR environmental impact studies:    

Exercise 9:     For the full list of CERI reports, go to

The 2015 Refining Bitumen: Costs, Benefits, and Analysis is linked there or directly at:

Victoria report:

Exercise 10: Pembina Institute’s report:

Downloadable data and files:

Exercise 1:Total Oil Production.txt

Exercise 5:Kurek 2013.pdf

Exercise 8: 
Water:                         Kelly 2010.pdf
                        Kelly 2009.pdf
 Air:                 McLinden 2012.pdf
                        Bari 2014.pdf
Health:            Lancet 2014.pdf

Exercise 9:  Victoria Report.pdf and Bitumen CBA.pdf