The new face of tar sands

In Alberta, Canada, oil companies are now exploiting tar sands. Strip mining has left the ground skinned and gutted and an increasingly common method of extracting the oil is even more damaging to the environment. The Canadian tar sands contain an estimated 170 million barrels of recoverable oil. Nowadays most operations dig up the tarry bitumen in open pit mines, then separate it from the sand and refine it. The high energy process damages the environment, leaving lakes of toxic residues, and a high carbon cost. Researchers hope new technologies can be used in a process which will help to reduce greenhouse gases and help to transform the bitumen into lighter oil underground, before it is pumped to the surface. Many of the toxic residues can remain underground, removing the problem of surface pollution. Another solution is to induce bacteria to digest the bitumen converting it into methane which could be extracted like conventional natural gas. This innovative solution is still at the field-testing stage; if it is successful researchers believe further work on the technique could eventually result in the ability to extract and refine a zero-carbon fuel.


  • English

Media Info

  • Pagination: 8-9
  • Serial:
    • Volume: 202
    • Issue Number: 2704
    • ISSN: 0262-4079

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01144049
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: TRL
  • Files: ITRD
  • Created Date: Nov 16 2009 12:23PM