Oil sand is sand mixed with tarry petroleum which occurrs naturally. The largest deposit of the stuff on earth is just to the north of us in Alberta, Canada. The deposits outside of Ft. MacMurry, Alberta, are estimated to contain some 175 billion barrels, second only to Saudi Arabia's 262 billion, and far more than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's estimated 10 billion.
It is the largest deposit of oil outside of Saudi Arabia and it is right next door where we don't have to worry too much about revolutions, massive corruption or snitty governments cutting off the supply. Extracting this petroleum is not without its drawbacks, however.
These oil sands are the world's most expensive, most polluting source of oil under large-scale production. Wringing four barrels of crude oil from the sands requires burning the equivalent of a fifth barrel. The mines and refineries release huge amounts of greenhouse gases - the equivalent each day to more than a third of California's daily car emissions.Imagine that for one refining operation. And the extraction and refining operation must be quintupled in size to meet the future energy needs of Canada and the US.
The oil fields, there are 3 of them, encompass an area the size of Florida. The largest pit is some 50 square miles in area. The equipment being used is humungous in size. Gigantic shovels that scrape up 100 tons of sand per scoop, dumping that sand into earthmovers that carry 400 tons of sand at a time to the refinery. The refinery itself covers 1000 acres.
And all of this must be quintupled in size.
"The oil sands are a big challenge," Canada's environment minister, Stephane Dion, who has fought publicly with other Cabinet officials for a tougher line on global warming, said in an interview. "They are sending out a lot of greenhouse gas emissions..
"But there is no minister of the environment on Earth who can stop this from going forward, because there is too much money in it," Dion said.