How Big Are Canada’s Oil Sands?

Infographic: How Big Are Canada's Oil Sands?

Infographic: How Big Are Canada’s Oil Sands?

There’s no shortage of discussion on Canada’s oil sands. Even Leonardo Dicaprio has recently toured them while subsequently providing commentary that ruffled the feathers of the province of Alberta.

All conversation aside, our team at Visual Capitalist was curious to see how big they actually were. In this infographic, we look at their overall size as well as what portions can be recovered by mining or “in situ” methods.

As a whole, the oil sands are about as big as the state of Florida. The mineable portion makes up about 3% of that total, which is for bitumen deposits less than 75 metres below ground. For perspective, this is about 6x the size of New York City. Meanwhile, the rest (about 97%) must be recovered by “in situ” methods such as SAGD where heavy oil is pumped to the surface.

Surely something with this size and scope must have a big impact in other places – and it does. The oil sands produce more than 56% of Canada’s oil and contains over 98% of Canada’s proven reserves. Over the next 25 years, $783 billion in royalties and taxes will be paid to the government.

This is not without significant costs, as greenhouse gas emission numbers are also staggering. Between 1990 and 2011, emissions from the oil sands have increased 267%. Now, Alberta produces 69 tonnes of GHG emissions per person. If it were a country, the province would have 3x the emissions as the USA or Canada per capita. Also, tailings ponds make up 176 sq. km of Northern Alberta, which is roughly the size of two Manhattans.


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  • happylada

    Facts are interesting things – but can be manipulated. Assuming oil has an environmental cost and we are going to continue to use it – it seems that its more environmentally friendly (not to mention politically friendly) to use Canadian oil than oil from the mideast. And the economic benefits are outstanding – where else will we get out funding for all the social programs everyone (increasingly) seems to think is their right? And HOW MUCH poluition was being caused by the leaching of the oil into the water supply BEFORE it was mined? Why does ANYONE think that CO2 is a pollutant – last I heard it was essential for the growth of plants and constituted insignificantly to our atmosphere – which is about 98% water vapor (which causes some amount of temperature regulation in the atmosphere). Just wondering how many additional facts would have been presented if looking for a ballanced approach to this issue.

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