Oil Sands Regions:

TOTAL AREA:
93,259 km2

TOTAL Human Footprint:
8,086 km2

Region Overview

The Athabasca Oil Sands Area (OSA) encompasses an area of 93,259 km2 (14%) in northeastern Alberta. This region is situated in the Boreal Forest Natural Region, which is characterized by a mosaic of upland forests composed of Trembling Aspen, White Spruce, and Jack Pine, and lowland forests composed of Black Spruce, Larch, and open wetlands. Multiple ice ages have created a flattened and rolling landscape dotted with numerous shallow lakes and wetlands connected by meandering streams, which largely feed into the Athabasca River system. The Athabasca OSA hosts the largest known deposit of crude bitumen in the world; as a result, the energy industry dominates the economy. However, conventional oil and gas development, forestry, and hunting and trapping also have important roles. Human footprint status and trend is summarized for the Athabasca OSA.

Status

As of 2016, human footprint occupied 8.67% of the Athabasca OSA. Forestry was the dominant human footprint, covering 4.15% of the region followed by energy footprint, which covered 2.53%. The remaining footprint types each covered < 1% of the OSA. 

Human Footprint Type Area (km2) Area (%)
Total Human Footprint 8,086 8.7
Agriculture 755 0.8
Energy 2,359 2.5
Forestry 3,870 4.2
Human-created Water Bodies 65 0.1
Transportation 373 0.4
Urban/Industrial 662 0.7

FIGURE: Summary of percentage cover of total human footprint broken down by human footprint category in the Athabasca Oil Sands Area, circa 2016.

Total Human Footprint 8.7%

Agriculture 0.8%

Energy 2.5%

Forestry 4.2%

Human-created Water Bodies 0.1%

Transportation 0.4%

Urban/Industrial 0.7%

Trend

Between 1999 and 2016, the total area of human footprint in the Athabasca OSA increased by 3.90%, from 4.77% to 8.67%. This increase in human footprint was driven by the expansion of forestry footprint, which more than doubled in size during this time from 2.01% to 4.15%. Energy footprint increased by over 1%, from 1.43% to 2.53%. 

Human Footprint Type 1999 (km2) 2016 (km2) Change (km2)
Total Human Footprint 4,448 8,086 + 3,637
Agriculture 699 755 + 56
Energy 1,334 2,359 + 1,026
Forestry 1,875 3,870 + 1,996
Human-created Water Bodies 47 65 + 19
Transportation 242 373 + 131
Urban/Industrial 233 662 + 429
Human Footprint Type 1999 (%) 2016 (%) Change (%)
Total Human Footprint 4.8 8.7 + 3.9
Agriculture 0.8 0.8 + 0.1
Energy 1.4 2.5 + 1.1
Forestry 2.0 4.2 + 2.1
Human-created Water Bodies 0.1 0.1 + 0.0
Transportation 0.3 0.4 + 0.1
Urban/Industrial 0.2 0.7 + 0.5

FIGURE: Trend in the percentage area of total human footprint, and by human footprint category in the Athabasca Oil Sands Area between 1999 and 2016. Click on the entries in the legend to turn human footprint categories on and off.