Foreign Policy Blogs

A Visit to the Athabasca Oil Sands

A Visit to the Athabasca Oil Sands

A View over Albian Sands. (c) Mia Bennett

I spent the past couple of days in Alberta, Canada. After a brief stop in Edmonton, a group of journalists and I headed to Shell Albian Sands outside Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta. We flew over the boreal forest, where the late fall temperatures had already caused lakes and rivers to freeze under a white crust.

Above is a photo I took of the oil sands. They are brown, vast, and industrialized, and look nothing like the surrounding boreal forest. As it was November, it was too cold to hose the roads and sands, for if they did, everything would freeze and turn slippery. Consequently, since it still hadn’t snowed, dust clouds hung in the still air.

I’ll be writing more about the trip in the days to come. While the oil sands are not in the Arctic per se, they are in Northern Canada, and hence play a crucial role in the energy policy of one of the most important actors in the Arctic. Additionally, oil sands have been found on Canada’s Melville Island (in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago) and off of the coast of Greenland. Understanding how oil sands are developed today will prove useful if their Arctic counterparts are ever exploited.



Mia Bennett

Mia Bennett is pursuing a PhD in Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She received her MPhil (with Distinction) in Polar Studies from the University of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute, where she was a Gates Scholar.

Mia examines how climate change is reshaping the geopolitics of the Arctic through an investigation of scientific endeavors, transportation and trade networks, governance, and natural resource development. Her masters dissertation investigated the extent of an Asian-Arctic region, focusing on the activities of Korea, China, and Japan in the circumpolar north. Mia's work has appeared in ReNew Canada, Water Canada, FACTA, and Baltic Rim Economies, among other publications.

She speaks French, Swedish, and is learning Russian.

Follow her on Twitter @miageografia