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The Athabasca Oil Sands

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In the past the banks of the Athabasca River were covered in northern coniferous forest.  The bituminous sand has been exploited for about 30 years, and is the second greatest oil reserve in the world, with an estimated potential of 175 billion barrels, but, before it becomes oil the sand has to be refined.  To make one barrel of 159 litres of crude oil it is necessary to extract two tonnes of sand.  It is dug out to a depth of more than 60 metres, and then enormous trucks carrying more than 400 tonnes transport the bituminous sand to the refinery, where water pumped from the river is used to separate the bitumen from the sand in huge heated tanks.  Then this bitumen, once it has been transported to the factories, is turned into liquid crude oil before being taken by pipeline to supply North America.  This whole massive exploitation is of great economic benefit to the region.  Thanks to oil money, the population of the nearby town of Fort McMurray has grown rapidly over the course of the last few years.  However, although all this wealth benefits the province of Alberta, the oil companies and the inhabitants, it is damaging the environment.  What with the destruction of the pine forests, the dug-out soil, the chemical waste and the contamination of the water, this exploitation is seriously affecting the environment.  The extraction of the oil is becoming more and more profitable with the increases in oil prices and so the bituminous sand of Alberta seems to have a good future, unless the requirements of combating climate change put an end to its exploitation.


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