Extraction of oil from oil sands such as the extensive deposits in Alberta requires a substantial input of water, two barrels of water for each barrel of oil extracted. In Alberta this water is extracted from the Athabasca River and, after recycling, deposited in tailing ponds. The amounts involved are huge.[1] The water deposited contains considerable amounts of carcinogenic hydrocarbons and heavy metals, in Alberta it is colloquially called "dead water"".[2]

It is during low water, in the winter, that danger arises to fish in the Athabasca River. It has been proposed that withdrawals be curtailed during that season. There is some evidence of increased pollution downstream of the project, specifically of an increase of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.[3]


  1. "Down to the Last Drop: The Athabasca River and Oil Sands Dan Woynillowicz and Chris Severson-Baker OIL SANDS ISSUE PAPER No. 1 The Pembina Institute, March, 2006
  2. "Mud, sweat and tears": "The vast tar sands of Alberta in Canada hold oil reserves six times the size of Saudi Arabia's. But this 'black gold' is proving a mixed blessing for the frontier town of Fort McMurray, fuelling both prosperity and misery. As the social and environmental toll mounts, Aida Edemariam reports on the dark side of a boom town", article by Aida Edemariam in The Guardian October 30, 2007
  3. "Study Finds Carcinogens in Water Near Alberta Oil Sands Projects" article by Ian Austen in the New York Times November 9, 2007

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