Environmental consequences of oil production from oil sands

Rosa, Lorenzo; Davis, Kyle Frankel; Cristina Rulli, Maria; D'Odorico, Paolo

Crude oil from oil sands will constitute a substantial share of future global oil demand. Oil sands deposits account for a third of globally proven oil reserves, underlie large natural forested areas, and have extraction methods requiring large volumes of freshwater. Yet little work has been done to quantify some of the main environmental impacts of oil sands operations. Here we examine forest loss and water use for the world's major oil sands deposits. We calculate actual and potential rates of water use and forest loss both in Canadian deposits, where oil sands extraction is already taking place, and in other major deposits worldwide. We estimated that their exploitation, given projected production trends, could result in 1.31 km3 yr−1 of freshwater demand and 8700 km2 of forest loss. The expected escalation in oil sands extraction thus portends extensive environmental impacts.

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Earth's Future

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Earth Institute
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January 24, 2019