Pollutants from Tar Sands Sites Comparable to Mid-Sized City, Study Says


The amounts of pollution produced by tar sands excavation sites are comparable to those of a medium-sized city or a large power plant, according to a new study by Environment Canada, the nation’s environmental agency.

Using satellite remote sensing observations, scientists found elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide across a 19-by-31-mile region of surface mining. In addition to corresponding to “locations of significant emissions from large mining operations,” the researchers found that pollution levels are increasing.

In the case of nitrogen dioxide, levels increased by about 10.4 percent annually between 2005 and 2010. “It stands out above what’s around it, out in the wilderness,” said Chris McLinden, a research scientist with Environment Canada and lead author of the study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

The extraction of the sludgy bituminous materials from tar sands requires enormous amounts of energy, and therefore the burning of fossil fuels. In 2010, about 1.8 million barrels of oil were produced daily from Canada’s vast tar sands deposits.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

  • Thomas Ziegler

    Why are we paying higher prices for natural gas, while this same prodicf is used for heating water as part of the oil sands processing method? For many years you would and still see flaring in the oil fields across Alberta and now Saskatchewan. Flaring is a method of burning off natural gas you often get when drilling cor oil. Let’s put this same product into our homes and vehicles before we give it to large oil companies, at a subsidized rate. Our Canadian government is shaming canada as a whole and what’s more is, we don’t need the tsp sands now.

    Thomas Ziegler