The responsible development of oil sands is a key driver of Alberta’s and Canada’s economy. It creates jobs and tax revenue for government which support the social programs and capital infrastructure projects we rely on.
Oil sands facts, statistics and indicators are subject to change as new information becomes available. Oil sands sustainability indicators highlight trends across economic, environmental and social topics in Alberta’s oil sands areas.
Unless otherwise stated, sources are from the Government of Alberta. Where applicable, external sources have been noted and linked.
Reserves and production
Alberta's oil sands has the third largest oil reserves in the world, after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
Alberta's oil sands’ proven reserves equal about 165.4 billion barrels (bbl).
Learn more about oil sands production at:
Alberta's upstream energy sector includes oil sands, conventional oil and gas, and mining and quarrying. Capital investment in this sector:
- was equal to about $28.3 billion in 2016
- was estimated at $26.5 billion in 2017
- is forecast at $23.7 billion in 2018
Source: Statistics Canada
In 2017, approximately 140,300 people were employed in Alberta’s upstream energy sector. Source: Statistics Canada, Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours.
For the eighth fiscal year in a row, bitumen royalty made the largest contribution to provincial
resource royalty revenue. In 2016 to 2017, bitumen revenue totalled $1.48 billion, or 47.9% of the non-renewable resource revenue. Bitumen royalties were higher than budgeted due
to higher-than-expected crude oil prices. For more information, see:
Alberta's oil sands lie beneath 142,200 km² of land in the following areas of Northern Alberta:
- Cold Lake
- Peace River
Reserves up to 75 metres deep are shallow enough to mine and found only within the Athabasca oil sands area. About 4,800 km² of surface mineable area make up roughly 3.4% of all Alberta oil sands.
AER has established regulatory boundaries for each of Alberta’s oil sands areas.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
Alberta became the first jurisdiction in North America to legislate GHG emission reductions for large industrial facilities. For national statistics on emissions, see the Government of Canada’s GHG emissions by province and territory.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology can be used in many industries to reduce CO2 emissions. Alberta is investing $1.24 billion over 15 years in 2 large-scale CCS projects:
- Alberta Carbon Trunk Line
- Quest Project
The Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation came into effect on January 1, 2018, replacing the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation. It applies to:
- large industrial emitters of 100,000 tonnes or more
- smaller emitters who choose to opt in
For more information on Alberta’s approach to reducing GHG emissions, see:
Oil sands projects recycle 80% to 95% of the water they use. They also use saline water where possible.
Alberta Environment and Parks imposes strict limits on water usage. See:
The Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat (2010-2016) worked to address rapid growth issues in the oil sand regions. Comprehensive Regional Infrastructure Sustainability Plans (CRISPs) were developed for 2 of the areas.
Mine operators are required to supply reclamation security bonds to ensure they meet requirements. Reclamation certificates are only issued if monitoring through time demonstrates that these particular lands meet the criteria to return to self-sustaining ecosystems. The first successful reclamation occurred in 2008.
On Oct 12, 2017, AER released its updated Directive 085: Fluid Tailings Management for Oil Sands Mining Projects under the Oil Sands Conservation Act. It will drive further operator action to reclaim legacy tailings in Alberta’s mineable oil sands.
The Alberta Land Stewardship Act supports the Land-use Framework, designed to encompass provincewide strategies to manage the province's land and natural resources. It aims to achieve Alberta's long-term economic, environmental and social goals.
Disturbed oil sands surface mineable area equalled roughly 895 km² in 2013, accounting for less than 1% of the total oil sands area. This makes up about 0.2% of Alberta’s boreal forest, which covers over 381,000 km².
By the end of 2013, the total area occupied by oil sands tailings ponds and associated structures, such as dikes, was 220 km². Of that, the total liquid surface area of the ponds was 88 km². The total volume of fine fluid tailings reported by mine operators was 975.6 million m³.
Oil sands mine reclamation and disturbance tracking by year is a sustainability indicator found in the oil sands information portal. It offers:
- environmental data and information
- an interactive map
- a searchable data library
Connect with Oil Sands, Coal and Mineral Operations:
Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
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Oil Sands, Coal and Mineral Operations
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