Canadian tar sands

Written by Lester Brown, et. al.

One area where unconventional oil is now being pursued is Canada's oil sands, mostly located in Alberta Province.  Also know as tar sands because of their semi-solid state, the viscous mixture of bitumen (a thick oil-based hydrocarbon), sand, clay, and water cannot be easily drilled and pumped. The easier way to get it is to dig pit or strip mines, destroying the landscape.  But many of the remaining deposits are now too far below the surface to use this method.  Oil companies are using a technique to heat the bitumen underground to make it fluid enough to pump to the surface.  Then more processing is required to make the tar sands oil ready to flow through a pipeline.  The intensive production process requires a lot of energy.  In fact, each unit of energy that goes into extracting and refining tar sands yields just 5 units of energy.  This poor energy return on investment is a far cry from the 16 or more units yielded from pumping oil in conventional fields. Tar sands accounted for more that half of Canada's oil production in 2013.

Lester Brown, The Great Transition, p.21

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