Non-Renewable Energy Resources: Oil

It took a lot to deter Albertans of the past century from focusing largely on the easy and relatively effective use of coal but that time did come, primarily after the Leduc No. 1 oil discovery. This discovery occurred on February 13, 1947, when Imperial Oil, after drilling 133 dry holes in a row finally hit upon a major oil deposit.[1] This was the first of many oil wells in the area, leading to a booming town of Leduc, and later Devon, and then expanding across the province, including into the oil sands.[2] Today, Canada is the 4th largest producer and 3rd largest exporter of oil in the world and 98% of Canada’s crude oil supplies can be found in the oil sands of Northern Alberta.[3] Alberta has also continued its development of conventional oil wells, which are still increasing in number.[4]

Although the production of conventional oil continues in Alberta, since the discovery of the oil sands, oil sands development has dominated Alberta’s oil economy. The Albertan oil sands are the 3rd largest oil reserves in the world (after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia) and cover a large area of Northern Alberta, centred approximately around Ft. McMurray (with two smaller deposits in the Cold Lake and Peace River areas).

Over the years, oil sands production has evolved to extract bitumen in one of two ways, either through a mining method or through the in situ method (click here to learn more about in situ extraction and mining).

To move both conventional crude and oil sands crude around, we rely on an extensive network of 840,000 km of pipelines across Canada, as well as rail, trucks, and tanker ships.[5]

The fossil fuel industry in Alberta is helped along by:

  • an extensive regulatory process which allows companies to lease significant tracts of provincial land for exploration and extraction;
  • a subsidy program which provides large fossil fuel companies with tax breaks, grants, and royalty reductions. For example, in 2013-2014, these reductions were estimated to amount to $2.7 billion;[6] and
  • a regulatory system that focuses on becoming increasingly streamlined.

This means that despite the newfound appetite for renewable resources, a switch to clean energy remains complicated.

Although we’ve looked primarily at oil and coal in this section, can you think of any other non-renewable resources that are extracted on a regular basis in Alberta?

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[1] Wallis Snowden, “Leduc No. 1: Seven decades ago, a single oil well changed Alberta history” (13 February 2017) CBC News online:

[2] Wallis Snowden, “Leduc No. 1: Seven decades ago, a single oil well changed Alberta history”.

[3] Natural Resources Canada, “Crude oil facts” (4 January 2018) Government of Canada online:

[4] Natural Resources Canada, “Crude oil facts”.

[5] Natural Resources Canada, “Crude oil facts”.

[6] Elizabeth Bast et al., “Empty promises: G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production” OilChange International online: