Canada has vast amounts of crude oil under parts of every province and territory, as well as off each of our eastern, western and northern coasts.  It is safe to say, however, that oil production in this country has become synonymous with western Canada.  Most of Canada’s oil comes from three sources: the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, the Athabasca Oil Sands sands deposits of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan and offshore fields in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, stretching across north eastern British Columbia, a portion of the Northwest Territories, most of Alberta, much of southern Saskatchewan and the south western tip of Manitoba, is home to one of world class petroleum and natural gas reserves.  The Athabasca Oil Sands deposit, located in northern parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, containing rich bitumen resources, has reserves that are the second largest in the world, after Saudi Arabia.

Some analysts assert that oil sands activity represents the most significant development in the Canadian economy in the last number of decades.  The argument is tough to ignore.  The oil sands serve as a creator of, among other things, aboriginal business and engagement, jobs, exports (to the United States and Asia), tax revenues, as well as outside investment and wealth. In terms of regional economic impact, much of the activity resulting from oil sands investment flows to Alberta and Saskatchewan and these economic benefits are projected to continue moving forward.

While developing these oil reserves creates hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country and contributes to both national wealth and trade balance and other benefits, a number of consequences of this development are noteworthy.  In addition to the challenge of developing enough energy to meet current demand, there are cases of, and potential for, adverse effects on: air, land, water, plants and animals, and human health and safety.  The area of greenhouse gas emissions, for example, presently captures the much attention of environmental groups, the media and politicians.  Even further, oil development has had negative effects on Aboriginal communities and other people in rural and remote areas across western Canada, who call many of the lands been developed home.

In response to these problems and challenges, continued investment and innovation in reducing energy use, carbon capture and storage technology is required.  As well, properly directed government regulation and public consultation are necessary to address the aforementioned social and environmental effects of petroleum development, while, at the same time, ensuring the economic sustainability of the sector.

In this section, Insightwest seeks to make sense of and propel discussion on the realities of western Canada’s oil sector, by providing new thoughts, links to current articles, important industry developments, as well as press releases from key industry stakeholders.