Fast facts

  • Canada's oilsands are the largest known deposit of crude oil outside of the Middle East.
  • The oilsands span 142,200 square kilometres — a region about the same size as New York state.
  • Current mining projects have disturbed about 602 square km of land — a stretch about the size of Edmonton.
  • Using technology available now, the Alberta government says as much as 170 billion barrels of bitumen can be recovered — that's enough to fill 3 million barrels per day for more than 150 years.

Tailings ponds by the numbers

  • A facility that produces about 100,000 barrels will output about 20,000 cubic metres of tailings — enough to fill eight Olympic-size swimming pools, according to the government of Alberta.
  • Tailings ponds in Alberta cover about 130 square km — roughly the same size as a city such as Lethbridge, Alta. or Richmond, B.C.
  • Open pit mining uses about four barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil. About two to three of these barrels are drawn from the Athabasca River. Between 80 to 95 per cent of that water is recycled. Each barrel taken from the river is reused and recycled 18 times.
  • Industry estimates suggest about 65 birds die in the oilsands tailings pond every year. However, Kevin Timoney, a researcher with Treeline Ecological Research, says the figure is likely 30 times higher, with the median closer to 2,000 birds per year.

Dirty production? Three takes

  • Greenpeace: The oilsands generate 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year — more than all the cars in Canada combined.
  • Canada oil sands (trade group): About 29.5 megatonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions are produced during the mining, refining and processing of oilsands. This amount represents five per cent of Canada's emissions and 0.1 per cent of the world's total.
  • The oilsands industry generated about 37 million tonnes of CO2 in 2008 — or about 0.08 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. (Royal Society of Canada's report Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada's Oil Sands)


  • Capital expenditures in oilsands production in 2008 totalled $20.7 billion and $13.5 billion in 2009. (StatsCan)
  • About 136,200 people were employed in the mining, oil and gas extraction sector in 2009, according to the province of Alberta.