The Scope Of The Alberta Oil Sands Must Be Seen To Be Believed

This is part of our series on the Alberta oil sands.

I’ve spent the past few days touring oil sands research facilities and drilling sites, but today I got to see the vast expanse of sands from above. 

Hanging out the side window of a small Cessna 172, I took these shots from about 1,000 feet in the air, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. 

Mining here in the sands makes up just over half the oil pulled from the area. Nearly as much is drawn up through wells in a process called in-situ recovery, but this open mining is generally what people think of when they picture the oil sands.

The vast number of people working these sites get bussed or flown in and head back to their homes on their days off. Tonight I’ll be going on a ride along with the local police to see what types of difficulties, if any, such a unique population offers local law enforcement.

Tailing PondAll the water used in mining here winds up in these tailing ponds that companies plan to convert back into native forest

Photo: Robert Johnson — Business Insider

Tailing PondThe water has fine clay, sand, water, and residual bitumen left over from the oil extraction process

Photo: Robert Johnson — Business Insider

RefineryThe mines are just one part of the operation up here — this Suncor plant sits on the shores of the Athabasca River

Photo: Robert Johnson — Business Insider

Oil SandsThese dump trucks are among the largest in the world and they swarm over the mine — this set were headed away with more empty ones coming from the other direction to replace them

Photo: Robert Johnson — Business Insider


Click here for more of the oil sands series >

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.