Athabasca Oil Sands, Canada


Image courtesy of TastyCakes via Wikimedia commons.

Image courtesy of TastyCakes via Wikimedia commons.

Fort McMurray is an interesting case studies for those interested in the oil sands, boreal forest loss, oil production using different technologies, and water toxicity. Fort McMurray is located in northeast Alberta, and home to the Athabasca Oil Sands. The area is the site of the recovery and extraction of oil sands using mining and in situ technologies, resulting in various environmental consequences. One can examine greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and current restoration issues associated with the oil sands to make an interesting and complex project.

With the current environmental and social issues revolving around the oil sands, there is countless amount of information available about the subject. The only issue is the completeness and opacity of this information. Data sources can range from industry to government data to peer-reviewed literature and to ENGO’s. However, data values can differ greatly across these sources. Be sure to pay attention to where you get your numbers from and what assumptions the source has made about these numbers. The land cover data we have provided you is accurate for areas around oil sands, not Northeast part of image.


Energy/Resources:    Environment Alberta      Alberta’s Oil Sands       Pembina – Oil Sands Watch    Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers    World of Change    Racing to Renewables in Fort McMurray   Oil Crash

Conservation/Ecology:    Mercury Pollution    Canadian Oil Waste    Groundwater in Athabasca Oil Sands Region    Environmental Defence    Syncrude Tailings Dam    Higher Carcinogen Level    Defusing the Carbon Bomb

Society/Urban:    Policy about Tarsands    George Hoberg on CBC

For an academic source: Be sure to check out the work of David Schindler

Basic Geodata

Land cover data (compatible with ArcGIS) will be provided to you in class, covering three past time periods since the 1980s. The links below will show you the approximate boundaries (as seen in Google Earth with recent years), as well as the basic changes in land cover.

view in Google Earth

view Simple Land Cover Maps

Remember, in addition to Landsat-derived land cover, there are several more auxiliary geodata sets that have already been collected for you and will be provided in lab. These data include: terrain/elevation, nightlights which represent population, floristic zones, etc. and are available at all study locations. These datasets are introduced and explained further under Additional Data Sources. In addition to these ready-to-go, prepared auxiliary datasets, this page also provides ideas for additional datasets you might find on your own.