Athabasca Oil Sands Essay

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The Athabasca oil sands are the second largest producer of crude oil in the world, with a surface area of approximately 100 000 square kilometres (Anderson, Giesy & Wiseman, 2010). The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board estimates that the oil sands contains approximately 1.7 trillion barrels of crude bitumen, however only 19% can be ultimately recovered (Raynolds, Severson-Baker & Woynillowicz, 2005; Humphries, 2008). The availability of recoverable bitumen makes Canada’s oil sands deposit larger even than that of Saudi Arabia (Czarnecki, Hamza, Masliyah, Xu & Zhou, 2004).The process of surface and in situ mining of the Athabasca oil sands is causing rapid and significant degradation of the regional environment surrounding
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The steam acts as a separating agent to isolate the bitumen from the other constituents (Anderson et al., 2010). Bitumen that is extracted by in situ processes is upgraded into more valuable synthetic crude and then refined into fuel for gasoline or diesel. The remaining bitumen is directly processed as raw (Bergenson, Charpentier, & MacLean, 2009).
Water Resources and the Athabasca River
The mining processes of the Athabasca oil sands directly affect water resources surrounding the mining pits, specifically the Athabasca River and its tributaries. Water use has been identified by the Alberta Chamber of Resources as a top four challenge of oil sands mining processes (Raynolds et al., 2005). The extraction of bitumen requires freshwater in large quantities, on a scale of 2-4 barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced (Anderson et al., 2010).
Tailings is what becomes of the water used in the extraction of oil. It is a slurry of bitumen, water, sand, silt and clay particles. Tailings ponds, which are actually man-made structures, take up more than 50 square kilometres of land in northern Alberta (Raynolds et al., 2005). The water that is used in the extraction of oil separates from the other constituents in tailings ponds as the sediments settle on the bottom, and is pumped back to the extraction plant to be reused. Tailings ponds present environmental risks to freshwater resources due to the

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