The Alberta Tar Sands

Buried just beneath a layer of muskeg and forest in northern Alberta, Canada, lies a 50,000 square mile reservoir of heavy crude oil, possibly holding 2 trillion barrels of recoverable oil. These bitumen deposits require a lot of effort to extract, recover, and pre-process before the oil can be sent to conventional refineries. Most of the current extraction process takes place in open-pit mines, with massive machinery scraping up the tarry sandstone and moving it to facilities for processing. As the name "tar sands", or oil sands, implies, the heavy crude is found mixed in with sand, clay, and water, which must be removed, then the heavy crude must be "upgraded" to reduce viscosity and improve quality. Environmental activists have expressed concerns about the mining for years, citing destructive impacts on the land, the heavy carbon footprint of the laborious extraction and upgrade process, massive amounts of toxic byproducts, and studies that show oil sands crude emits more greenhouse gases than conventional crude oil. Oil companies continue to make efforts to reduce carbon emissions, manage toxic byproducts, and reclaim mined land, while ramping up production. The Alberta tar sands are currently producing around two million barrels of oil per day, with plans to increase that to nearly four million barrels per day by 2022. Reuters photographer Todd Korol recently traveled to Alberta to photograph some of the mines, facilities, and surrounding landscape.

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Ads are being blocked

For us to continue writing great stories, we need to display ads.

Un-block Learn more
Back

Whitelist

Please select the extension that is blocking ads.

Back

Please follow the steps below

Most Recent

  • Joe Raedle / Getty

    Photos of the Week: 7/23-7/29

    Sledding in Saudi Arabia, hyperrealist sculptures in Spain, a 12-meter-tall puppet in England, snowfall in South Africa, Pokemon Go in Syria, and much more.

  • Jim Young / Reuters

    Scenes From the Democratic National Convention

    This week, an estimated 50,000 people have gathered in Philadelphia for the four-day Democratic National Convention.

  • U.S. Navy / Maj. R.V. Spencer, UAF

    Remembering the Korean War

    Sixty-three years ago today, on July 27, 1953, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed, ceasing hostilities between North Korea and South Korea.

  • Noah Berger / AP

    Flying Around the World in a Solar Powered Plane

    Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg successfully landed the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, after flying around the world using only the power of the Sun.

Join the Discussion