Canada's Oil Sands: One Handsome Devil

The abundance of oil in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, might fill state and private coffers but will the profit come at the expense of sustainable environmental policies?

What's the Latest Development?


Extraction of oil from Canada's tar sands is heating up, which might mean big money for some and environmental peril for all. The U.S. State Department recently applied the brakes to a pipeline stretching from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico, after learning that a Nebraska aquifer would be put at risk. The company that proposed the pipeline, Trans Canada, says it will work around the problem. Exxon Mobile and China have begun investing heavily in oil extraction companies.

What's the Big Idea?

The tar sands in Alberta are the world's third-most plentiful source of fossil fuels, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. While opening Alberta to extraction could provide freedom from Middle East oil, and billions in revenue for Canada and private energy companies, the environmental toll could be staggering: In addition to setting back the adoption of renewable energies, getting one barrel of oil out of the sands requires 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 55 gallons of fresh water and 20 percent more carbon than refining light crude oil.

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice
popular

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less