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As the price of oil rises and as conventional hydrocarbon resources become scarcer, increased exploration and production activity is occurring in heavy-oil, tar-sands, and bitumen deposits. Although these contribute significantly to the global energy budget, they also contribute a greater share to the global carbon budget and to the detriment of the global environment. The balancing act between economics and environmental concerns is demonstrated on a grand scale in the evaluation of these geologic deposits. This chapter is intended to present the concerns relating to the “carbon footprint” of the development of these deposits in northern Alberta, Canada (referred to hereafter as “tar sands” for brevity) and to outline opportunities for more balanced tar-sands development by improved integration of geoscience and engineering disciplines.

Although the emphasis in this chapter is the Athabasca, Peace River, and Cold Lake districts, the concerns about these deposits are global in nature. Tar sands occur in as many as 70 countries, including Canada, Venezuela, Colombia, Trinidad, the United States, Romania, Albania, Madagascar, the former Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, and China. Because of declining production of conventional, light, and medium oil, the world is depending on oil supplied from bitumen and heavy oil much faster than had been previously thought.

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