Oilsands are touted as the cure-all solution to the world’s energy woes. Massive deposits in Canada contain 174 billion barrels of oil that are deemed recoverable with current technology. Heavy oil deposits in Venezuela contain another 90 billion barrels. However, oil sands mining technology continues to be refined, and economically recoverable reserves will continue to increase over the next few decades.

However, oilsands extraction in Alberta, Canada, is destroying the boreal forest and bogs overlying the Athabaska deposit, leaving a stark environment unrecognizable as a natural landscape. Oilsands mining has been taking place since 1963, yet not one hectare of land has been ever been certified reclaimed by the Alberta Government.

An oil sands mine has never been closed before; therefore there is no telling how difficult it will be to reclaim tailings ponds and other mine byproducts, and restore the boreal forests and abundant wildlife of the past. These reclamation issues are currently being debated in the context of the Albian Sands Expansion project.

Interestingly, the government has not yet developed a comprehensive guideline for reclamation of lands disturbed by oilsands development. A government website states that:

“Reclamation guidelines and a land capability evaluation system for reclaimed oil sands landscapes are currently under development and review. As well, discussions are occurring on developing reclamation criteria tailored to the oil sands area.”

How difficult is it to reclaim an oily and chemical-contaminated muck, and turn it into a thriving forest teeming with healthy animals? The fact that companies are currently trying to reclaim lands testifies that someone is making an effort to make things right. Maybe part of the problem is that the oilsands industry is growing so quickly that all the focus is on new development with little thought for long-term planning and closure.

Can these companies be trusted to do the right thing? With the urgency of an impending oil crisis, will environmental concerns take the back seat to satisfying the needs of consumers? Sacrifice of ideals for the sake of supposedly more important needs seems to be very popular in today’s world. Will future Mars-mission trainees spend their time in the barren and lifeless remains of the abandoned oilsands mines?