Pollution on the Canadian Oil Sands: An Environmental Problem

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I. The environmental problem that I am studying is pollution on the Canadian oil sands. According to industry sources, this is the largest single oil deposit in the world at an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 trillion barrels ( The oil sands are in the north of the country, in sparsely-populated areas, and have come to prominence recently for a couple of issues. The first is the plan to build the Keystone pipeline to get oil from the oil sands to Texas and the second is the environmental devastation caused by the extraction of this oil, including the pollution of river basins downstream (DeSouza, 2011). A lot of the local controversy about the Keystone Pipeline was about the pollution that the oil sands are causing and that building Keystone would make the United States culpable in this problem. II. The problem exists in northern Alberta, where large deposits of oil exist. The oil is costly to extract, but high prices have made this process viable in recent years. The environmental problems are created during the extraction process. The oil is removed from the sands by mixing it with hot water, skimming off the bitumen, and then centrifuging the bitumen (Oil Sands Centre, 2009). This process is energy-intensive, and byproducts end up in the atmosphere or in tailing ponds that threaten the local watershed. Sulfur dioxide in particular is a major pollutant that results from the process and causes acid rain. Nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds are also created in the

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