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Athabasca oil sands UPSC NOTE

 Why in news

  • New measurements of total gaseous organic carbon concentrations in the air over the Athabasca oil sands in Canada suggest that traditional methods of estimating this pollution can severely underestimate emissions

  • Aircraft-based measurements reveal that the total gaseous organic carbon emissions from oil sands operations exceed industry-reported values by 1,900% to over 6,300% across the studied facilities. 

  • Emissions from both surface mining operations and extraction from deeper in situ deposits of bitumen were studied.

Athabasca oil sands

  • The Athabasca oil sands, also known as the Athabasca tar sands, are a fascinating and complex topic with both economic and environmental implications. 

  • Vast deposits of bitumen (extremely heavy crude oil) in northeastern Alberta, Canada.

  • Largest known reservoir of bitumen in the world, and a major contributor to Canada's economy.

  • Bitumen is mixed with sand, clay, and water, making it difficult and energy-intensive to extract.

  • Two main methods: open-pit mining and in-situ extraction.

  • Open-pit mining is more common, but both methods require large amounts of water and energy.

  • Extracted bitumen is upgraded into synthetic crude oil for transportation and refining.

  • Major source of revenue for Alberta and Canada, generating billions in royalties and jobs.

  • Contributes significantly to Canada's energy security and global oil exports.

  • High greenhouse gas emissions associated with extraction and processing.

  • Impacts on water resources and land use, including deforestation and boreal forest degradation.

  • Concerns about tailings ponds and potential contamination of waterways.

What are the deposits?

  • The main deposit in the Athabasca oil sands is bitumen.

  • A thick, viscous form of crude oil

  • It's often referred to as "tar sands" due to its sticky consistency.

  • While bitumen is the primary target for extraction, the oil sands aren't just pure bitumen.

  • Bitumen: This makes up approximately 10-15% of the mixture and is the valuable resource extracted for conversion into synthetic crude oil.

  • Sand: Around 75-80% of the composition is sand, providing the structural framework for the deposit.

  • Clay minerals: These make up about 5-10% and bind the sand and bitumen together, contributing to the difficulty of extraction.

  • Water: The remaining 5-10% is water, filling the pore spaces between the other components and further complicating extraction.

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