MYTH: Mineable Oil Sands is the Size of Florida

Bill Nye the Science Guy produced a video back in 2015 called EXPLORER: Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown, which made it seem like to the unknowing viewer that Canada’s mineable oil sands would expand to be the size of Florida if left unabated.

If science is supposed to be based on observation, experiment, and the analysis of data that’s collected from these processes, Bill’s suggestion that mineable oil sands operations would grow to “almost” 170,000 km2 in size (Florida) is preposterously unscientific.

Okay, we will give Bill credit where it is due. He did say “almost the size of Florida” in his video. But wait. On second thought, that’s not even accurate. It’s also unscientific of him to make such a comparison when the state is about 20% larger than the oil sands total land surface area to begin with. Such a large difference is not “almost” in any science experiment.

Well, wasn’t there an extensive amount of ‘human error’ in that quantitative analysis, Bill.

Only 3% of Oil Sands Land Surface Area is Mineable

FACT: Canada’s oil sands have a land surface area of approximately 142,000 km2, only 3% of which could ever be developed by mining. That's about 4,260 km2. The other 97% must be developed in-situ (in the ground) because the oil is too deep (>75 metres) to reach.

In-situ extraction processes currently account for more than half of oil sands production, and create just 10-15% of the land disturbance that mining does. In addition, in-situ extraction is projected to account for a majority of future development in the oil sands.

Once land is disturbed by an operation, it’s required by law that it be reclaimed fully to “…[a] self-sustaining ecosystem with local vegetation and wildlife." Learn more:

Current Land Disturbance by Oil Sands

It would be much more scientific of Bill to focus on the data - that is, the actual numbers published by the Alberta Government regarding current land disturbances and reclamation activities. Land disturbed includes:

  • Cleared for development
  • Active extraction operations
  • Reclamation - Ready / Temporary / Permanent

chart - oil sands mine operation land disturbance tracking

The chart above shows that up to 2016 only about 950 km2 of land had been disturbed by oil sands mining operations. Today, it’s reasonable to assume that figure is higher. But even if it is, let’s consider that 1,000 km2, for example, is only about 0.6% the size of Florida.

Bill Nye, Please Be Accurate

Bill. Many millennials loved you for your quirky educational shows back in the day, and they still do. But please, when you're asked to spread misinformation about Alberta’s oil sands to your millions of social media followers, we would expect you to hold yourself to the highest scientific standards possible and check the facts first.

You should have an emphasis on accurate numbers based on qualitative and quantitative data. We've taken the liberty of providing you with some of that data above. Conjuring up nonsensical fallacies like suggesting the oil sands mining area will grow to the size of Florida if left unchecked without accurate data to back it all up is just plain unscientific of you. After all, you are “The Science Guy.”