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Tar Sands depletes vital fresh water needs

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Oil sands plants typically use two to four barrels of water to extract a barrel of oil from the tar sands, but some extraction methods can use as much as 7 barrels of water. The amount of water needed for the tar sands is seriously lowering the water levels of the Athabasca River, the Mackenzie Valley watershed and other related water sources in the region.

The amount of water which can be recycled back into the watershed is still very low, and contaminated water must be stored in tailings ponds, vast holding tanks the size of lakes, some as large as 15 square kilometres, containing hydrocarbons and other chemical by products from tar sands production. Additionally, toxic water spewing from tar sands production has infected fish and wildlife, causing sickness among Aboriginal peoples downstream.

The amount of water available in Northern Alberta isn’t sufficient to accommodate both the needs of burgeoning oil sands development and preserve the Athabasca River, shows a study done in part by Dr. David Schindler, a University of Alberta biologist considered Canada’s top water expert. The study suggests that the choke point for the province’s oil sands expansion may not be the huge carbon dioxide emissions arising from mining and processing the sticky, bitumen containing tar sands, as is widely assumed, but a lack of water.

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Written by thecanadianheadlines

December 26, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Posted in environment news

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the article & update on water usage in tar sands although I thought this news was already well known. But the article and the researcher that was noted is really digging into the consequences of increased oil extraction. If one barrel of oil needs several barrels of water & one barrel of oil needs 1/2 barrel of energy equivalent to process & one barrel of oil sends 300 lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere then the only motive to keep going is purely profit. It’s clear the tar sands are an enormous liability which the coming generations will have to bear the environmental consequences.

    hugh curran

    December 27, 2009 at 3:05 am

  2. Not denying that the oil sands are environmental problem/liabilities I would like to ask where is the information that “The amount of water needed for the tar sands is seriously lowering the water levels of the Athabasca River, the Mackenzie Valley watershed and other related water sources in the region.” because, as far as I could find, the oil sands extractions lowering waster levels all right, but the drop in water levels is minuscule, and especially after it passes the delta.

    I think sometimes we should look critically at information presented to us as the information is manipulated and creates not the truth but “myths and misunderstanding” and is propagated even by scientists. That kind of approach is very short-sighted and will do more damage than good for the environmental cause in the future.

    Marek Janowicz

    December 29, 2009 at 6:55 pm


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