When reaching out to Alberta oil sands companies before a trip to Canada last month I thought all of them mined oil the same way — they don't.
The open mining most people think of when they picture the oil sands is just one way of extracting crude from the ground, but it is without a doubt the most dramatic. And we had to see it.
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After being refused a mine tour and any type of access to a mining site or equipment, Business Insider rented a plane that I used to see everything I could of the mines on my own.
Restricted to flying no lower than 1,000 feet above the ground, I spent nearly two hours leaning out the window of a small Cessna 172 with a long lens, snapping pictures and trying to keep warm.
The oil sands hold up to 2 trillion barrels of oil spread over more than 54,000 square miles, making it the second largest oil deposit in the world after Saudi Arabia.
The amount of energy spent recovering that oil and the pollution created in refining it is immense and the impact on the environment profound.
Limiting that impact is important as oil companies are required by law to return the land to its original condition when they're done mining, but the amount of time required to do that has long been criticized.
Today's environmental focus at the mining companies is figuring out how to get the land back to its original state more quickly and efficiently.
And that is something that everyone who lives and works near the oil sands would be happy to see.
It used to be that people would come to work the mines for a couple of years and go back where they came from. That is changing as people put down roots and raise their children and grandchildren.
About 140,000 people are involved in working the oil sands with 100,000 more jobs expected in the next five years.
So, no matter how you feel about the oil sands or the burning of all that oil, you can be sure that as long as there's a market for it and people need jobs, the oil companies aren't going anywhere.
I also need to extend a sincere thanks to former miner Mike Pearson whose experience and insights proved invaluable.
More pictures of our oil sands trip can be found here on Flickr.
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