Aerial view of tailings ponds at the Athabascan Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, 18 May 2012. A mixture of water and oil sand from the strip mines is called 'slurry'. The sand and water mixture is pumped to open storage areas called tailings ponds. The ponds are vast and some look more like lakes. Most ponds are coated in a sheen of oil that is deadly to waterfowl, like ducks and geese, that land on its surface. Robert Johnson /

By Robert Johnson
18 May 2012

When reaching out to Alberta oil sands companies before a trip to Canada last month, I thought all of them mined oil the same way — they don't.

The open mining most people think of when they picture the oil sands is just one way of extracting crude from the ground, but it is without a doubt the most dramatic. And we had to see it.

After being refused a mine tour and any type of access to a mining site or equipment, Business Insider rented a plane that I used to see everything I could of the mines on my own.

Restricted to flying no lower than 1,000 feet above the ground, I spent nearly two hours leaning out the window of a small Cessna 172 with a long lens, snapping pictures and trying to keep warm.

The oil sands hold up to two trillion barrels of oil spread over more than 54,000 square miles, making it the second largest oil deposit in the world after Saudi Arabia.

The amount of energy spent recovering that oil and the pollution created in refining it is immense, and the impact on the environment profound. […]

The Canadian Oil Sand Mines Refused Us Access, So We Rented This Plane To See What They Were Up To



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