Athabasca, Black Gold, and You

A barrel of crude oil is 42 US gallons. About half of that barrel is refined into automotive fuel or what we call “gasoline” in the States and other English speakers call “petrol.” Note that this does not include diesel fuel. Last year Americans burned about 375 million gallons of gasoline per day, or a little more than one gallon per citizen per day. There are about 320 million citizens, and 375÷320 is 1.17, but we’ll round off to “one” for convenience. Still, that’s a staggering number. I can go anywhere from 32 to 40 miles on one gallon of petrol in my Honda and about half that distance in my VW camper.

What’s this got to do with Canada? Just that we import more oil from the Land of the Maple Leaf than from anywhere else. About half of Canada’s total production comes from the Alberta oil sands, some two million barrels of crude per day, and they ship about three million barrels per day to their southern neighbors. That’s right—about three of every four barrels of oil produced in Canada come to the United States. We import about nine million barrels per day total so Canada accounts for a third of our imports. The recent domestic production boom here in the States is pretty close to that, The Energy Information Administration says we are closing in on ten million barrels produced daily, the highest total in thirty years.

So when you burn gas in your car you can assume that half of it is American, half of it is foreign, and of that foreign half a third is Canadian, with half of that from the Athabasca. So, yeah, you are burning the oil sands whether you like it or not.

Like I said before I’ve no intention of getting on a soapbox. You can politicize this stuff all you want, I won’t. I want to know what it takes to live the life I do, the life we all live. We First-World Western Industrial Society People, that is. What we don’t grow, we mine. And oil is one of the things we mine. We dig big holes in the ground, yank the stuff out, and process the shit out of it. That’s something. That’s a hell of an undertaking and I want to appreciate it fully.

I like to spend my time outdoors and I love trees and mountains and birds and rocks and streams and all that stuff. And I burn a hell of a lot of gas getting to places that give me that. Not to mention I live in a rural area far from seaports and factories so everything has to be trucked over an extensive highway infrastructure and supported by a gigantic electric power grid.

I’ll leave you with a satellite photo of a portion of the Athabasca oil sands development (from NASA Earth Observatory World of Change)):

athabasca drom space

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