Oilsands | Pembina Institute

The oilsands in northern Alberta are the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

The oilsands underlie approximately 140,000 square kilometres of the boreal forest in northern Alberta. Increasing greenhouse gas emissions are a major concern, but other impacts — from drawing down water levels in the Athabasca River, to the creation of toxic tailings dumps, to hundreds of square kilometers of strip-mining and drilling in the boreal forest — are growing just as rapidly.

While oilsands production has expanded rapidly in the last decade, government policies and regulations have failed to keep up, creating serious challenges in managing the environmental, social and economic impacts.

Alberta can do better

Many of the environmental, social and economic impacts being felt across Alberta can be traced back to the decision to develop the oilsands as fast as possible rather than at a manageable pace. As a result, while oilsands projects have expanded rapidly, government policies and planning have fallen far behind, leaving a serious deficit in environmental management.

Responsible oilsands development

Our goal is to advance responsible oilsands development, which we define as:

  • capping the impacts of oilsands development within the limits of what science shows the ecosystem can support;
  • shrinking the environmental footprint of oilsands development for every barrel produced; and
  • ensuring a meaningful portion of the benefits of oilsands development are used to support Canada's transition to a clean energy future.

Select publications

See our recent oilsands-related publications, and get Pembina Institute's perspective on the latest oilsands news by reviewing our blogs and op-eds.

PUBLICATION Booms, busts and bitumen The economic implications of Canadian oilsands development

This report, jointly published by Equiterre and the Pembina Institute, examines how the rapid pace of oilsands development is creating economic risks and regional disparities that could have long-term implications for Canadian prosperity.

PUBLICATION Losing Ground Why the problem of oilsands tailings waste keeps growing

This fact sheet reviews the current state of tailings waste in Alberta, including compliance with provincial regulations.

PUBLICATION Key issues to watch in federal oil and gas climate regulations

In April 2013, the Pembina Institute published a report outlining the key features of a credible greenhouse gas regulation for Canada’s oil and gas sector. This backgrounder updates our initial report in response to new information revealed in media reports, and highlights issues to watch as regulations are announced.

PUBLICATION Forecasting the impacts of oilsands expansion

This report a number of metrics of oilsands production on a per-barrel basis, including land disturbance, air emissions, water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and tailings production.

PUBLICATION Solving the Puzzle Progress Update 2013

In 2011 the Pembina Institute released Solving the Puzzle — our report outlining 19 policy solutions for responsible oilsands development. Here we evaluate progress to 2013 on implementing the solutions presented in that report.

PUBLICATION Beneath the Surface A review of key facts in the oilsands debate

This report examines some common claims about the environmental performance of oilsands producers and the environmental impacts of oilsands production.

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