Canada'a tar sands, also known as oil sands, are located in the northern half of the province of Alberta along with some deposits in neighbouring Saskatchewan. Covering a land mass of 140,200 km2, or 54,132 square miles, the deposits span a region larger than the size of the U.S. states of :
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- District of Columbia
and is also larger than the country of England.
The tar sands is located in the heart of Canada's Boreal Forest, a nearly continuous belt of coniferous trees that extends across the country. Home to a diversity of plant and animal species, the region is commonly referred to as "the lungs of the planet", as it is the second largest carbon storehouse in the world, second only to the amazon rainforest. The region includes extensive wetlands including bogs, peatlands and fens. The tar seands region of the Boreal Forest is the tradional territory of the Dene, Cree, and Métis indigenous people.
At an estimated 170 billion barrels, Canada's tar sands have put the country on the global oil map, making Canada second only to Soudi Arabia for proven crude oil reserves. Since commencment of extraction nearly forty years ago, extraction of the resource has increased steadily to more than 1.4 million barrels per day in 2010.
Tar sands oil is destined for the U.S., and in 2008, Alberta exported 1.51 million barrels per day of crude to the U.S, supplying 15% of the U.S. crude imports, or 8% of oil demands.
As of June 2009, there were approximately 5,012 oil sands (agreements) with the province totaling approximately 82,542 km2 (31,870 square miles). This equated to an area nearly the size of the state of South Carolina. Close to 41% of the tar sands areas are still available for leasing.