From this recent article a portion of this 76 page slideshow…
The Alberta oil sands are spread across more than 54,000 square miles but we’re taking a look at just a small part of it. The red line is an approximate outline of the entire deposit — the green is where we’ll be flying.
Thousands flock here to make real money in the oil sands, where creating synthetic crude begins in the strip mine.
This is how the oil sands have been harvested since 1967.
Only two companies worked the sands in 1998. In May 2012 there were more than 10 times that number.
That’s because in the late ’90s oil prices rose, the Canadian government restructured its royalty system, and new technology caused a huge boom.
From small companies to conglomerates like Shell, each outfit starts off the same way.
Then they scrape away the shallow layer of leafy, peaty topsoil called muskeg.
Trucks and shovels move in to scoop up the oil sand — this shovel is electric — and scoops up 90 tons in one load. It takes about 2.5 tons of sand to produce one barrel of oil.
The Cat 797 dump trucks are the largest in the world and can haul 1 million pounds in a single load — more weight than a fully loaded Boeing 747 airplane.
They’re so large people say they can drive over a Ford F-150 like it’s a ‘speed bump.’ This shot of one inside a mechanic’s shop shows what they mean.
Robert Johnson — Business Insider
And the dump trucks are everywhere out here.
Carrying the chunks of compacted oil sand…
…Often across bridges like these, which are supposed to be the strongest in the world…
…To crushing plants like this, which break up the chunks into a fine mixture that can be transported along the conveyor belts below.
The conveyors take the sand to be conditioned — the first step in separating it from the oil.
Conditioning just mixes the oil sand with water to create a slurry, in which oil begins to part from the sand.
The slurry is then piped to containers where it separates into three parts: Oil froth on top; sand on the bottom; and oil, sand, clay, and water in the middle.
the sand and water mixture in the middle 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 can be deadly to waterfowl, like ducks and geese, that land on its surface.
Scarecrows like this are all over the ponds to help keep birds away.
The ponds are used to clarify the oil-water slurry. Solids slowly sink to the bottom, chemicals and oil float to the top.
The surface chemicals are skimmed off with floating lines like those used in oil spills.
To give an idea of the size: That dump truck passing the pond is 50 feet long.
This is what one pond looks like on the ground.
And this is what the surface material looks like up-close.
After the surface water is skimmed, it’s relatively sediment- and chemical-free and is pumped from one pond to another.
This clarified water is supposed to provide 90 percent of what the oil companies need to start all over again.
The solids left behind will be used to reclaim the land as the operation moves on.
As the sand finally dries, it turns white. Sound cannons boom in these areas to scare birds away, especially after a 2010 incident where hundreds of ducks landed on a roadside pond and died.
Oil companies are required to return the land to its original condition and this reclaimed section, populated with Wood Bison, is not far from the pond.
It looks a whole lot different on this side.