Alberta’s Tar Sands: In-Situ Extraction Converted to Mining?

Well, no. Our friends at The Pembina Institute who study tar sands development and other energy issues, inform us that what we observed on recent imagery does not show the footprint of in-situ extraction.  It does show the intense landscape fragmentation caused by the delineation wells and seismic survey lines that are part of the exploration process, to evaluate the quality and extent of tar sands deposits prior to mining.  According to Pembina, all of the disruption associated with this exploration activity occurs BEFORE any environmental assessment is submitted. That seems bassackwards…

2008 Google Earth imagery showing intense footprint of in-situ bitumen extraction from tar sands deposits near Cold Lake, Alberta.

Meanwhile, here is a shot of an in-situ extraction project (using the SAGD process, Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage), located about 15 miles northwest of Cold Lake, Alberta.  Best we can tell this is part of Shell’s Orion project.  The well sites are about 5 acres in size and they are spaced very closely together.  The result is a pretty heavy surface footprint on the landscape, similar to what we see with natural gas drilling and fracking in places like western Wyoming’s Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields.