Oilsands | Pembina Institute


The oilsands underlie approximately 140,000 square kilometres of the boreal forest in northern Alberta and are the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. 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.

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.

Our work

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

You can also search all publications by topic or keyword.

Booms, busts and bitumen

The economic implications of Canadian oilsands development

booms-busts-and-bitumen-en-cover.pngPublished Nov. 13, 2013

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 Canada's economic prosperity. 

The report also provides pragmatic recommendations to address these concerns, such as improving the management of one-time resource wealth and eliminating preferential tax treatment for the oil and gas sector.

Learn more: Report (English / français)

This slideshow explores how oilsands development and expansion impacts some of the Aboriginal communities living nearby.

Losing Ground

Why the problem of oilsands tailings waste keeps growing

losing-ground-cover.pngPublished Aug. 19, 2013

In 2009, new rules were released by Alberta’s energy regulator to help manage growing volumes of toxic tailings waste from oilsands mining. As of 2013, not a single company is complying with those rules.

This fact sheet reviews the current state of tailings waste in Alberta, and makes three recommendations for the new Alberta Energy Regulator to help ensure that resource development in the province is efficient, safe and responsible.

key-issues-oil-gas-regs.pngPublished June 24, 2013

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. Since that analysis was published, media reports have revealed some of the proposals that the federal and Alberta governments are considering.

This backgrounder updates our initial report in response to the new information that has become public in recent months. We focus on three issues to watch as greenhouse gas regulations for the oil and gas sector are announced.

oilsands-metrics-cover.pngPublished June 20, 2013

Pembina has quantified 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.

This provides a comprehensive assessment of current and potential future impacts based on approved projects as well as growth projections.

solving-puzzle-progress-2013-cover.pngPublished April 29, 2013

Two years ago the Pembina Institute released Solving the Puzzle — our report outlining 19 oilsands policy solutions aiming to protect air, forests, wildlife and fresh water, along with a credible approach to reducing greenhouse gas pollution and establishing a world-class environmental monitoring system. Given the intensifying scrutiny on management of the oilsands, it is worthwhile to evaluate the extent to which the urgently needed policies to responsibly develop the oilsands have been implemented.

With project approvals continuing to outstrip progress on environmental rules, it’s more important than ever that the Government of Alberta complete the necessary steps to manage the pace and scale of regional and climate impacts. Here we evaluate progress on implementing the solutions presented in Solving the Puzzle, noting three categories: Substantial progress, Moderate progress and Limited progress.

Download the Progress Update | Download the Presentation

Beneath the Surface

A review of key facts in the oilsands debate

beneath-the-surface-jan2013-cover.pngPublished Jan. 28, 2013

This report examines some common claims about the environmental performance of oilsands producers and the environmental impacts of oilsands production. Many of the claims included in this document are not false, but they selectively present information to minimize the negative impacts of oilsands production or overstate the positive strides that industry or governments have made toward addressing those impacts.

The information presented draws on independent research, public information and expert analysis to put key facts about oilsands production in their proper context.

Download: Report | Backgrounder

Beneath the Surface: A review of key facts in the Oilsands debate

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