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Where Does the Oil Come From?

The Keystone I and Keystone XL pipelines would transport ultra-heavy crude oil from the Alberta tar sands of Canada (sometimes called the oil sands). This oil is substantially dirtier and more expensive than the oil Americans have used in the past.

The Alberta tar sands lie below an area the size of Michigan, covered with a healthy boreal forest full of wildlife. (Photo below courtesy of Oil Sands Watch.)

What the boreal forest looks like before tar sands oil production

What the boreal forest looks like before tar sands oil production

The photo below shows what happens to the forest when tar sands are mined. (Photo courtesy of Oil Sands Watch.)

Suncor Millenium Mine

Suncor Millenium Mine

The waste materials leftover from producing the tar sands crude oil are stored in enormous tailings ponds. (Photo courtesy of Oil Sands Watch.)

Tailings pond north of Syncrude processing facility and upgrader

Tailings pond north of Syncrude processing facility and upgrader

The water in the tailings ponds becomes highly polluted. In April 2008, 1,600 waterfowl died when they landed on a tailings pond.

Because tar sands oil is so expensive to produce, it is only profitable for producers when oil prices are relatively high, and therefore will not result in cheap gasoline.

Becoming more dependent on dirty, expensive tar sands oil will delay our transition to a safe, clean energy economy.

For more information:

Dirty Oil Sands: A Threat to the New Energy Economy


14 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2011 2:41 am

    I live in Alberta, and am opposed to the oil sands and this pipeline. It is heart breaking, the devastation that is going on in northern Alberta. People living downstream from the oil sands are dying of rare cancers linked to petrochemicals, most likely from groundwater pollution. The forests are peeled back, and the area is now devoid of life. Massive amounts of water and energy are used to get the oil from the sand, and toxic tailings ponds are created. The water monitoring is grossly inadequate. It is such a huge mega project, it seems like such an immovable force – I am glad there are organizations like this one to go up against it. Thank you.

  2. Bob Lefurgey permalink
    April 7, 2011 1:09 pm

    I am also a native Albertan and am proud of our accomplishments…Our wellsites, pipelines and YES the tarsands are some of the cleanest sites in the world…
    There is a caveat though…Due to the size, scope and scale of what is going on up there…The problems and issues will be bigger…You are Lucky that it is Albertans and not Russians or other 3rd world bananna republics running the oilsands…
    It seems that that the enviromentalists would rather have the US oil supplies come from places where the blood of their young are mixed with the oil they buy rather than “ETHCAL” Alberta oil

    • April 7, 2011 11:43 pm

      I do not agree that the oil sands are the cleanest in the world. I do not agree that tailings pond technology is clean. I do not agree that the emissions released from the Alberta oil sands, which is equal to the entire country of Switzerland, could possibly be considered clean. I would encourage you to ask the residents of Fort Chipewyan if they think the oil sands are ethical.

      There has to be a better way, a cleaner way.

  3. Bob Lefurgey permalink
    April 20, 2011 9:48 pm

    Hey Sherry…Glad to see you back…Yes it is big and Yes it is massive…Everyone should get up there to see it…The tarsands in Alberta (Sask not included) is about the size of Florida…The area that is Strip Mineable is aprox the size of Edmonton…Enviornmentalist dont take this into consideration…You dont see OpenPit mining in Lloydminster or the SAGD projects that have been going on for a long time…To work in Albertas oilpatch I have about 20+ tickets from training course on Safety, Enviornment and First Aid…By comparision I have worked in Africa, the Middle East and the USA…We are far cleaner, ethical and Enviornmentally sensitive than any other place that I have worked on the face of this planet…When I worked in the Southern Sudan around Bor over 300,000 people were murdered by the Islamist for several reasons…However, one of the main ones was over”OIL”…They are already getting ready to go at it again in Abyei…The majority of Enviromental groups would rather the Americans mix their oil with blood rather than Alberta “ETHICAL OIL”….Havent been up to Ft Chip for a few years but you get a mixed bag of reactions…The Enviroment and Tribal lands were a big issue until Total ponied up some pretty good coin…Around Anzac its a bit different, the Aboriginals that I talked to are felling pretty screwed over…But that again comes down to money…The reality is that without the tar sands and ALBERTA… Canada would be belly up and the US would be in major trouble…We provide 25% of their oil…Even that left wing Loon Obama grudgingly admits he needs us…Alberta has paid over 230 BILLION dollars to the Federal govt since 1976 in Equalization payments…Its a vicious cirle in this regard…The Indians feel ripped off and then Albertans feel ripped off by the Feds…Its an INCONVENIENT TRUTH that there is nothing to replace oil in the near term “IT IS WHAT IT IS”…Get over it and start helping with real answers…Try the “PEMBINA INSTITUTE” it might be a good start…At least they are willing to work with the oil companies on solutions and not pure Left Wing Ideologies…

  4. D G permalink
    August 20, 2011 2:43 pm

    I am glad that rightwing separatist loon, Bob Lefurgey, put quotes around “ethical oil”. He is clearly only concerned about the financial boons that the separatist loons in Alberta would get, regardless of the people killed to get it.

    • Bob Lefurgey permalink
      August 26, 2011 1:01 pm

      Hey DG Whoever you may be…I am not afraid to state my name and views and defend them logically…All you have thrown back is trash talk…It also looks like the Left wing Dems in Washington agree with me…As of today…The Enviornmental hearings have given Keystone a clean bill of health and Hillary Clinton will make her decision by the end of the year…
      Even if she says NO…which I seriously doubt…Theres always CHINA…I am pretty sure that one will go through as well…But thats for a later date…The problem with a lot of the people on the left is that if they cant logically defend a position they try to demonize and cover up the facts…At least Sherry is willing to state her name and debate the issues as she sees them…Good for you Sherry…Disagree or not OIL is a miracle substance that has shaped and changed our planet…For the most part it has been good…There is nothing that can match it without massive subsidies…It is what iti is DG…Whoever you may be 🙂

      • February 20, 2012 4:46 pm

        Are you completely out of your mind. Why should any
        country help a country that makes a mass human population
        then cannot care for it. Each country is responsible for
        their own doings. China is the worst country for animal
        and human abuse. China does not have empathy for any
        other country and it’s people. With minimum human
        population that lives simply with common sense, compassion,empathy, reasoning, wisdom, morals and the respect for all God’s beautiful, wonderful, innocent
        animals that do no harm to this planet, and the environ-
        ment is the brain to proper living. “The greatness of a
        nation and it’s moral progress can be judged by the way
        it’s animals are treated. Let’s help this planet become
        healthy again by leaving well enough alone. The once
        beautiful boreal forest was destroyed and all the wildlife
        within it, let’s not do any more harm.

  5. August 27, 2011 4:31 am

    I would like to ask Bob Lefurgey, what is ethical about massive waste ponds? How do you manage those, how do you dispose of the toxic waste? When will the the areas that have been mined be restored. Is there a division set up for that? I’m curious to know what your environmental training consists of? We all know one is how to set up blowers to keep birds from landing in the toxic ponds. You know what, any way you paint the justifications, they are ludicrous. I am not a left or right or whatever people want to label each other. I am a realist. We can only lie to ourselves for so long, this is a discredit to our abilities to come up with resolutions other than the destruction of our home. Yes, it is jobs, yes we are addicted but the fact remains we take what we want, in the cheapest quickest manner with disregard to the cost. Can you imagine how many jobs can be generated cleaning the mess we’ve made of everything. Oh. wait there’s no profit in that, how stupid of me.
    I’ll never understand how we can continue to justify nuclear waste, toxic waste, emissions from development of tar sands (45% higher emissions than oil to manufacture, there is nothing clean about what you are defending), the list goes on. Humor me this, at the rate we are going worldwide, where will all the byproduct go? Please educate me, I am willing to listen. I trust you are an engineer. I want you to know this is not just about Alberta, this is a worldwide issue. Admittedly many of us have caved in, we are prisoners of greed, as you know in the US we’ve had the largest shift of wealth in the last decade ever in history. It’s like we’re all being raped and we can’t do anything about it. Everyone is owned. I have to side with Sherry on this one, not because it’s a choice, IT’S THE ETHICAL THING TO DO.

  6. Bob Lefurgey permalink
    August 29, 2011 1:50 pm

    Marie…Nice to talk to you…Hopefully, I can give you a different perspective on some of these issues…Whats ethical about massve tailings ponds ???…Answer: They are in ALBERTA and not China, Africa,Russia or some 3rd world country….Nothing would be done about it at all!!…Ft. Mac and the tarsands are taken extremely seriously here…A project that may eventually consume 20+ % of the province is a huge project…The problems will also be huge as well…To answer some of the questions try going to the Pembina Instituite…They have been up at the Tar Sands for decades trying to work with industry,aboriginals and governments…While I may not agree with some of their views they are the only Enviornmental group/Institute that has any credibility with oilsands companies that I know of…They actually try to come up with and work on solutions, rather than the knee jerk reactions of groups like Geenpeace,World Wildlife Fund, The Suzuki Institue and others…They only want one thing….Shut it down…Have you ever stopped to consider the effects of shutting down the tarsands…We are rapidly approaching providing the USA with 25% of their total oil consumption let alone Canada,s requirements…How many 100,000s of jobs will be lost? Mine? Yours?…The economic consequences would devastate both the US and Canada…People will still require energy to survive,especially in our climates…People will revert to alternatives like wood and coal…That will hurt the enviornment even more if you consider the scale…Solar and Wind could only provide a small portion of the solution…They have a hard enough time surviving right now without massive subsidies…Solutions are being worked on and jobs are being created…If you look at the Safety industry in Western Canada, it is turning into a huge business, especially in the oil and gas industry…Ask any person who has had to fill out a daily Hazard assessment…Health,Safety and Enviornment are rapidly becoming a major consideration which is signalling a cultural shift in industry here…When I worked in Africa in the oil industry…HSE were all retired special forces like British SAS,Foreign Legion Paras and South African special forces that fell into the role of Enviornment and Safety…I am not an engineer thank you… but a Red Seal Journeyman…I have a ridiculous ammount of tickets ranging from confined space to MSDS…Im also in the process of becoming an NCSO (National Construction Safety Officer)….If you and others want to really do some good…Stop telling us to Shut it Down…It aint going to happen…Educate yourselves and learn about what is really going on who is actually doing something…Listening to the latest Rock/Movie star Beak Off doesnt tell you a whole lot the real issues…There are a few Enviornmental courses out there like Mount Royal College,Uof A and Uof C…Whats ethical about ASBESTOS…It,s illegal and reqires extreme measures to dispose of the stuff and is illegal in the US, Canada, EU and a host of others…Yet it is still mined and sold in Quebec to third world countries as well as India and China…Try Heavy Metal mining around the planet…I hear next to nothing about any of these…Yet, we are the demons and mosters,throw our premier in jail…You will not ever get the people of the province of Alberta, the oil industry and others to listen to you at all until you stop demonizing us…
    Its to bad, some good could actually be accomplished…

  7. Aubrey Sheats Jr. permalink
    September 15, 2011 7:28 am

    I live in the panhandle of Florida where unemployment is at 10 + % and gas is $3.80 pg. It’s a more rural area with no public transportation and few jobs. If you have a job here you usually travel 30- 40 mi. one way and pay bridge tolls.! When I heard about this pipeline I wondered why we were piping in oil from Canada when we have oil in our ground and offshore. The environmentalists are to blame for a lot of what’s wrong in our country and I hope the pipeline gets done, although I wish we could use our OWN.

    • September 15, 2011 12:04 pm

      Tar sands oil won’t bring down gas prices. It’s only economical to produce it when oil gets to $70 – $80 per barrel, and once this oil reaches Gulf Coast refineries it will become part of global oil markets. It’s not some kind of private North American supply. Nobody involved is trying to help out the American consumer. They’re trying to make a buck – off of us, if possible, but if not, from the Chinese or whoever happens to be the highest bidder for Canadian oil piped across the U.S. heartland. Has anybody been paying attention as the Panama Canal is expanded to accommodate supertankers?

      • Bob Lefurgey permalink
        September 15, 2011 12:43 pm

        No it doesnt bring down oil prices…The answer to your question lays in part with the stock market…My understanding is that one of the biggest offenders in driving the price of oil is speculation on the commodities market…ie The California pension fund…Correct me if I am wrong…What americans seem to forget is that Canada is the largest trading partner in the world with the US….Canadians purchase more from the US than all of the EU combined…Putting all of our eggs in one basket selling to the US has hurt us big time in the past…ie.Softwood lumber and BSE(Mad Cow)…By the end of this decade we will have both LNG ports and Oil Supertanker facilities shipping to Asia from the West coast…The US will also probably be doing the same as well…

  8. Bob Lefurgey permalink
    September 15, 2011 1:07 pm

    We pay mre for gas than you do…Currently $1.18/litre with our dollar being slightly more than yours now and we have the added insult of having the second largest if not the largest supply of oil in the world…We dont have bridge tolls but 30 to 40 miles is not bad…Most people who work in Albertas oil and Gas fields not including the tarsands can travel 100s of miles in a single day…I put on over 60,000km last year in my diesel guzzling F350…The XL pipeline will give your economy a well needed boost from the Canada/US border to Texas…The oil industry creates massive ammounts of jobs that usually pay pretty good…I remember back in the day (some 30 years ago) several american oilmen told me that it was the US foreign policy to use up other countries resources before using your own…Maybe somebody out there can clarify this…I also hear that plans are underway to make it easier for americans to work in Western Canada…Come on up there is a lot more work up here than there is down there…It will probably pay a lot better…Oh, How are you with -50C weather 🙂

  9. Bob Lefurgey permalink
    February 22, 2012 7:23 pm

    Darling Saphire,
    I guess you want some sort of alternative utopia that doesnt involve to many people and lots of animals….You are a little late…You seem to think that China is the new Boggie man…Wether you like it or not this is going to be Chinas century…Yes they have human rights issues and animl issues…They do seem to like Panda Bears a lot…Calgary will be getting a pair for 5 years…There are a lot of other countries out there that are far worse than China…A lot of these countries treat an animal better than they treat women…In the Southern Sudan a women is a commodity worth about 40 cows…In Somalia under there version of Sharia, it only takes 3 men claimining they have slept with her to condem her to death…A shallow pit is dug where she is wrapped from head to foot in a white cloth, then buried to her knees and then stoned to death…Sharia dictates how sharp and how many points the the stones have…It is a festive ocasion (mainly for the men) and bets are takenI could go further but nobody should have those kind of pictures in their heads …I saw a news article the other day…It said that aprox 3 million people are leaving the rural areas every month in China…This will go on for aprox the next 15 years…Their govt is trying to plan on feeding, clothing and housing them…How do you want to achieve your Utopian ideals??? You have some Inconvient Truths to deal with…One coal fired electrical power plant comes on line every 3 days now there…They are trying to get off of coal which your own scientists from IPCC says is far worse than oilsands from Alberta…They have 176 nuclear power stations in the works (26% of the worlds Uranium comes from Saskatchewan by the way)…Its a good thing that China isnt following Germanys lead and are shutting down nuclear plants and replacing them with Brown coal fired plants(lot of SO2)…You think the oilsands are bad…Take a look at some of Germaies Dragline operations that are some of the biggest in the world…China needs resources to survive and we are willing to do business with them…It will and is happening despite your delusions…Canada, France,Britian and Nato played a significant part in stopping Ghadafi in Libya while China opposed it…The first thing the people we helped to overthrow did was to torture, mutilate and sodomize Ghadafi with a bayonet…Since then Doctors Without Borders has pulled out of Libya because of people being tortured and then brought to them so that they can be tortured again after they had been patched up…Who was right China not getting invoved or us …the ones who did…If you can give me an acceptable answer please do so…Now Syria wants our help…I would really like to know the answer…
    Or do you want the oilsands completely shut down so that the Canadian economy collapses…Greeceastern Canada is not going to be able to do anything to solve their problems anytime soon…Without Equalization and the jobs we provide they are screwed. This is primarily due to left wing liberal progessive governments and the entitlements they seem to relish …Or would you rather see me,my family, friends and other Albertans Freezing in the dark and Hungry…There, that is my rant for the day 🙂

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