Facts and Statistics

The Oil Sands Facts and Statistics page is stocked with the most up-to-date information about the oil sands and related issues.

The following facts and statistics are subject to change as new information becomes available. Check back periodically for updates.

Where applicable, external sources have been noted and linked appropriately.
Oil Sands InfographicPDF iconJanuary 2014

Economics

  • Alberta ranks third, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, in terms of proven global crude oil reserves. 
  • In 2011, Alberta's total proven oil reserves were 170.2 billion barrels, or about 11 percent of total global oil reserves (1,523 billion barrels). 
  • Almost all of Alberta's proven oil reserves are found in Alberta's oil sands.  Of Alberta's total oil reserves 168.7 billion barrels, or about 99 percent come from the oil sands; and the remaining 1.5 billion barrels come from conventional crude oil.  Notably, Alberta accounts for an overwhelming majority (about 98 percent) of Canada's oil reserves. 

World's Largest Oil Reserves 2011

  • In  2011, Alberta exported about 1.3 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of crude oil to the United States (U.S.), supplying  15 percent of U.S. crude oil imports, or 7 percent of U.S. oil demand.  Total oil consumption for U.S. in  2011 was  18.9 million bbl/d.  Canada as a whole exported 2.23 million bbl/d of crude oil to the U.S., or about  25 percent of the U.S. total crude oil imports in 2011. 
  • In the fiscal year 2011/12, the Alberta government collected about $4.5 billion in royalties from oil sands projects.  This was the third fiscal year in a row when oil sands royalty was the top source of Alberta's non-renewable resource revenue. 
  • Oil sands investment increased to $17.2 billion in 2010, a 63 percent increase  from $10.6 billion in 2009. In 2011, oil sands investment has been projected to further increase to $21.6 billion. 

Oil and Gas Investment

Geography

  • Alberta's oil sands underlie 140,200 square kilometres (km2) (54,132 square miles) of land in the Athabasca, Cold Lake and Peace River areas in northern Alberta.  Together these oil sands areas contain an estimated 1.84 trillion barrels (initial volume in place) of crude bitumen.  About 9 percent of this volume (168.7 billion barrels) is recoverable using current technology and is considered to be a proven reserve. 
  • The Alberta Crown owns 81 percent of mineral rights, including oil sands.  Mineral rights owned by the Crown are managed by the Alberta Department of Energy on behalf of the citizens of the province.  The remaining 19 percent of the mineral rights in the province are held by the Federal Government within Aboriginal reserves, by successors in title to the Hudson's Bay Company, by the railway companies and by the descendents of original homesteaders through rights granted by the Federal Government before 1887.  These rights are referred to as "freehold rights". 

Production

  • Of the total 168.7 billion barrels of proven bitumen reserves, about 80 percent is considered recoverable by in-situ methods and 20 percent by surface mining methods.  Oil sands within 75 meters of the surface can be mined; whereas, oil sands below this threshold must be extracted using in-situ methods. 
  • In 2011, Alberta's production of crude bitumen reached over 1.7 million bbl/d; of this surface mining accounted for 51 percent and in-situ for 49 percent.  In 2011, about 57 percent of crude bitumen production was sent for upgrading to SCO in the province.  

 Operating Upgraders in Alberta
  • As of January 2013, there were 127 operating oil sands projects in Alberta. Only five of these projects are mining projects. 
  • By 2021, crude bitumen production is expected to more than double to 3.7 million bbl/d. 
  • On average it takes about two tonnes of mined oil sands to produce one barrel of SCO. 

Environment

 Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG)

  • In 2002, Alberta passed the Climate Change and Emissions Management Act (CCEMA) signalling its commitment to manage greenhouse gas emissions in the province. 
  • In 2003, Alberta passed the Specified Gas Reporting Regulation (SGRR) requiring all facilities emitting over 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) annually to report their emissions. Effective in the 2010 reporting period, the emissions threshold has been reduced to 50,000 tonnes CO2e. 
  • In 2007, Alberta became the first jurisdiction in North America to legislate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions for large industrial facilities by passing the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER). SGER requires all facilities in Alberta emitting over 100,000 tonnes of CO2e per year to reduce their emissions intensity by 12% below their 2003-2005 baseline emissions intensity. 
  • Facilities that fail to meet their emission intensity reduction targets have the following options:
    • Buy Alberta-based emissions offsets credits from the Alberta Emissions Offset Registry (AEOR);
    • Purchase Emissions Performance Credits (EPC) from the SGER facilities that have reduced their emissions intensity beyond their reduction target;
    • Pay $15/tonne of CO2e over reduction targets into the Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund (CCEMF) which supports projects and technologies aimed at reducing GHG emissions in the province.
  • In 2010, total reported GHG emissions from 165 Alberta facilities across 15 industrial sectors equalled 122.5 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) (i.e. one megatonne is equal to one million tonnes). 
  • The total oil sands operations sector, which includes oil sands in situ extraction, oil sands mining and upgrading, and associated cogeneration facilities, reported the largest share of 2010 greenhouse gases in Alberta, emitting 38.2 percent of total reported emissions, followed closely by electric power generation, emitting 37.4 percent of total reported emissions. In 2010, 7 oil sands mining and upgrading facilities accounted for 28.1 Mt (22.9 percent of total GHG emissions in Alberta). 
  • In 2010, 19 oil sands in-situ facilities accounted for 18.7 Mt (15.3 percent of total GHG emissions in Alberta). 

 Greenhouse gas emissions 2010

  • In 2010, oil sands accounted for approximately 6.8% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
  • In 2008 (the latest data available), oil sands accounted for about 0.15% of overall world greenhouse gas emissions.
  • According to Environment Canada, GHG emissions per barrel of oil from the oil sands have been reduced by an average of 26 percent between 1990 and 2010.

Alberta Environment offers more information on climate change and Alberta's greenhouse gas emissions reduction regulations. 

Land Management/Reclamation

  • The Alberta Land Stewardship Act supports the Land-use Framework, designed to encompass province-wide strategies like promoting efficient use of lands. 
  • Alberta's oil sands underlie 140,200 km2 (54,132 square miles).
  • To date, about 715 km2 of land have been disturbed by oil sands mining activity (less than 0.19 percent of Alberta's boreal forest which covers over 381,000 km2). 
  • In March 2008, the Government of Alberta issued its first reclamation certificate to Syncrude Canada Ltd. for the 104-hectre parcel of land known as Gateway Hill, north of Fort McMurray. 
  • Up to date, over 71 km2 of disturbed lands  are in the process of being reclaimed.  Industry has planted more than 7.5 million tree seedlings towards reclamation efforts.  Mine operators are required to supply reclamation security bonds to ensure requirements are met.  Reclamation certificates are not issued until monitoring through time demonstrates that these particular lands meet the Alberta Environment criteria for return to self-sustaining ecosystems. 
  • As of March 31, 2012, the province held over $875 million in such bonds from the oil sands industry. The Government of Alberta and private industry have each invested more than $1 billion in oil sands research.  Combined efforts and investments of both the public and private sectors will continue to advance scientific and technological solutions that will reduce the environmental footprint of oil sands progress and augment economic advancement.
  • Energy research initiatives like the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta in partnership with the federal and provincial governments are using nanotechnology to explore and develop innovations to accelerate improvements in the environmental and economic performance in the energy sector.
  • In July 2008, Government of Alberta committed an additional $2 billion in grant funding specifically for public transit, as part of the provincial Climate Change Action Plan. Also known as Green TRIP (Green Transit Incentives Program), this investment promotes the use of local, regional, and inter-city public transit and supports new public transit services across the province

Carbon Capture and Storage

Carbon Capture and Storage
Graphics courtesy of Alberta Geological Survey

  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a technology that can be used in a number of industries to reduce CO2 emissions, including those produced by oil sands bitumen upgrading.
  • Alberta is investing $1.3 billion over 15 years in two large scalle CCS projects.
  • The projects are expected to reduce GHG emissions by 2.76 million tonnes annually beginning in 2016. That is the equivalent of taking 550,000 vehicles off Alberta roads.
  • More information and full details about the projects is available from the main CCS page.

Water Usage

  • The Water Management Framework imposes strict limits on water usage for the Lower Athabasca River.  For instance, a week-by-week cap on how much water oil sands companies can remove is directly linked to the natural (increasing or decreasing) flow of the river.
    • In addition, a cap is placed on how much water can be removed by all oil sands projects (existing or approved) on an annual basis. Together all oil sands projects can only withdraw less than three percent of the average yearly flow of the Athabasca River for their business use. In 2010, total usage was 0.74 percent of the long-term average annual flow.
    • During periods of low river flow, Alberta Environment limits water consumption to 1.3 percent of annual average flow. At times, this can mean that industrial users will be restricted to less than half of their normal requirements given current approved development.
  • Industry is continually working on making production more efficient so water usage is further reduced.
    • In mining operations, 8 to 10 barrels of water is used for every barrel of SCO produced; however, with recycle rates of 40 to 70 percent this means only 2 to 4 barrels of water make up is required; and for in-situ operations about 2.5 to 4 barrels of water is used for every barrel of bitumen produced; however, with recycle rates of 70 to 90 percent this means only 0.5 barrels of water make up is required.

Employment

  • In 2011, approximately 116,000 people were employed in Alberta's upstream energy sector, which includes oil sands, conventional oil, gas and mining. In 2011, the energy sector accounted for 27.6 percent of Alberta's GDP.

Alberta GDP by Industry
Source: Statistics Canada and Alberta Treasury Board and Finance