The Athabasca oil sands are at once a source of oil, economic growth and environmental concern.
The Athabasca oil sands are at once a source of oil, economic growth and environmental concern.
With the rising cost of oil in the past decade, mining oil sands has become a profitable endeavor. Oil sands consist of sand, clay and other minerals coated in water and thick, viscous oil called bitumen (also known as asphalt). To get usable oil from the sands, producers have to separate the bitumen from the sand using very hot water, and then process the bitumen into crude oil. This process is expensive, energy-intensive and rough on the local environment. Perhaps nowhere is it easier to see the growth of the oil sands industry than along the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada. The region holds the world's largest known oil sands deposit, with a capacity to produce 174.5 billion barrels of oil—2.5 million barrels of oil per day for 186 years. Where the sands are close to the surface, they are extracted in large open pit mines. Captured by USGS-NASA Landsat satellites between 1984 and 2011, these images show the expansion of the pit mines.

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Short URL to This Page:
http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?10838
Animation Number:
10838
Released:
2011-12-13
Completed:
2011-12-12
Animator:
Robert Simmon (Sigma Space Corporation)
Writer:
Holli Riebeek (Sigma Space Corporation)
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Image credit goes to Rob Simmon and Jesse Allen, NASA's Earth Observatory


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Satellite images show the growth of pit mines over Canada's oil sands between 1984 and 2011.
Satellite images show the growth of pit mines over Canada's oil sands between 1984 and 2011.
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The first mine from 1967 is closest to the river in July 1984. The site includes a pit, processing equipment and tailings ponds.
The first mine from 1967 is closest to the river in July 1984. The site includes a pit, processing equipment and tailings ponds.
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In 1996 the Mildred Lake Mine began operations, while the original 1967 mine grew. It takes two tons of sand to produce a barrel of oil.
In 1996 the Mildred Lake Mine began operations, while the original 1967 mine grew. It takes two tons of sand to produce a barrel of oil.
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In the 2000s, oil prices rose dramatically, making oil sands profitable. The industry's growth starts to show in August 2001.
In the 2000s, oil prices rose dramatically, making oil sands profitable. The industry's growth starts to show in August 2001.
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May 15, 2011: The sands contain enough oil to produce 2.5 million barrels per day for 186 years. The U.S. consumes 18.8 million barrels per day.
May 15, 2011: The sands contain enough oil to produce 2.5 million barrels per day for 186 years. The U.S. consumes 18.8 million barrels per day.
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