In 2010, The Star newspaper reported that concerned residents on the shores of Lake Athabasca (downstream from one of the region's major oil sands facilities) had called for the federal government to commission an independent study to assess the impact on the area's water bodies.The researchers say that in 1980, daily production was 100,000 but has grown to about 1.5 million barrels a day, It is projected to reach 3.7 million barrels by 2025, they added.Sticky situation The development of the oil sands sector has been controversial, prompting an at-times polemic debate between those in favour of utilising the resource to cushion the Canadian economy from shocks in global energy prices and those who say the environmental costs are too high.However, the researchers added that PAH concentrations were still lower than those found in urban lakes.The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .Oil sands' toxins accumulate in freshwater ecosystems Studies have shown that oil sands operations lead to pollutants being released into water systems Toxic pollutants released by oil sands mining operations are accumulating in freshwater ecosystems, research by Canadian scientists suggests.A study of sediment in nearby lakes showed the level of pollutants, known as PAHs, had risen since the 1960s when oil sands development began.
PAH refers to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - a group of chemicals that have been shown to affect aquatic organisms and birds.PAHs have also been described as being responsible for damaging food crops."Canadian interim sediment quality guidelines have been exceeded since the mid-1980s at the most impacted sites." Oil sands, also known as tar sands, have only recently considered to be a viable component of the world's oil reserves as a result of rising energy prices and the development of technology that has made its processing profitable.These factors has resulted in a marked increase in the extraction and processing of oil sands in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, which account for 97% of the nation's proven reserves and is the world's third largest reserve.
The chemicals occur naturally in coal, crude oil, and petroleum; they are also present in products made from fossil fuels, such as creosote and asphalt.PAHs also can be released into the air during the burning of fossil fuels and organic matter - the less efficient the burning process, the more PAHs are given off. Digging the dirt Using sediment cores from five lakes within a 35km (22-mile) radius of major oil sands facilities and one remote lake (90km/56 miles from the facilities), the researchers assessed the ecological impact of oil sands developments on freshwater ecosystems.