Oil sands

sands naturally soaked with petroleum

Oil sands, or tar sands are an unconventional source of petroleum. The oil sands are a mixture of sand, clay and water in a dense and extremely sticky form of petroleum called bitumen.

Oil sands in Athabasca, Alberta
Tar Sandstone found in California

Natural bitumen is found in many countries, with the largest quantities in Canada, Kazakhstan and Russia.[1]

The worldwide deposits may be over two trillion barrels (320 billion cubic metres).[2] These estimates include deposits that have not yet been discovered. Around 70% of all known reserves are in Canada.

Oil produced from bitumen sands is often said to be unconventional oil. The production process takes energy, so the net energy gain is smaller than traditional oil. Making liquid fuels from oil sands makes 12 percent more greenhouse gases per barrel of oil than traditional oil.[3] Oil sands have only recently been needed. Higher prices allow this more expensive type of oil production to sell.

Environmental issues

Oil sand extraction in Fort McMurray, Canada

Getting the oil sands off the ground often destroys large areas of land. Much water is used to separate the oil from the sand and then left polluted. Carbon dioxide and other emissions from the extraction process are polluting the air.[4] The environmental destruction caused by oil sand extraction is criticized by environmental groups such as Greenpeace, The Climate Reality Project, 350.org, MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club and the Energy Action Coalition.[5][6]

In 2012 the European Union (EU) said that it may declare oil sands oil as "highly polluting". This caused stress between the EU and Canada.[7]



  1. Alberta's oil sands: opportunity, balance (PDF). Government of Alberta. March 2008. ISBN 978-0-7785-7348-7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 November 2014. Retrieved 13 May 2008.
  2. "About Tar Sands". Archived from the original on 2014-09-04. Retrieved 2013-08-24.
  3. Barbara Lewis, David Ljunggren and Jeffrey Jones (10 May 2012). "Canada's tar sands battle with Europe". huffington post. Reuters.
  4. Smandych R. and R. Kueneman 2010. The Canadian-Alberta Tar Sands: a case study of State-corporate environmental crime in R. White (ed) Global Environmental Harm. Cullompton: Willan, 2010
  5. "Stop the Tar sands to curb Canada's growing greenhouse gas emissions". Greenpeace Canada. 2011. Archived from the original on 25 October 2007. Retrieved 9 September 2011.
  6. "Alberta Tar Sands: A North American Overview". TreeHugger. Archived from the original on 2011-08-30. Retrieved 2013-08-24.
  7. Carrington, Damian (20 February 2012). "Canada threatens trade war with EU over tar sands". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 February 2012.