The future of development in Alberta’s oilsands lies in underground, steam-assisted operations that represent some of the country’s fastest growing greenhouse gas emissions. These projects have never been subject to federal environmental reviews and that’s not expected to change with Ottawa’s new-and-improved assessment rules
Unlike the pronounced nature of open-pit mines, with the accompanying heavy haulers and seemingly endless horizons of tailings ponds, in-situ — meaning in ground or in place — operations have a much less visible footprint.
Cenovus has gone so far as to dub these operations — which require the injection of steam underground to heat viscous oil, allowing it to be pumped to surface — “a different oil sands.”
While they certainly do represent the future of the oilsands — in-situ projects have already outpaced mining production and are set to increase by one million barrels per day by 2030 — they also come with their own set of problems.
To have the country’s main environmental assessment law leave the highest-carbon projects off the list is just unacceptable