Oil Sands Regions:

140,213 km2

TOTAL Human Footprint:
22,252 km2

Region Overview

The Oil Sands Region (OSR) is the aggregate of three recognized administrative units—the Athabasca, Cold Lake, and Peace River Oil Sands Areas—that together represent 140,000 km2 or 21% of the province’s land area. This region almost entirely overlays the Boreal Forest Natural Region which overlaps 97% of the landbase; the Parkland, Foothills, and Canadian Shield Natural Regions cover a very small area of the region. The energy sector is a major economic driver in the region as it contains 95% of Canada’s proven oil reserves. This area also has a robust forest industry with much of the region managed for timber production. The conventional natural gas industry has also developed alongside the oil sands industry, while agriculture is the dominant land use in some parts. Managing the cumulative effects of all land-use activities is a key management challenge in the OSR. Human footprint status and trends are summarized for the OSR.


As of 2018, human footprint occupied 15.8% of the Oil Sands Region. Agriculture was the dominant human footprint, covering 7.7% of the region, followed by forestry (4.1%) and energy (2.2%) footprints. The remaining footprints each occupied < 1.0% of the OSR area.

Human Footprint Type Area (km2) Area (%)

Figure: Status of Human Footprint. Summary of percentage cover of total human footprint broken down by human footprint category in the Oil Sands Region, circa 2018.

Figure: Map of Human Footprint. Status of human footprint by sector in the Oil Sands Region (circa 2018). Click on sectors in the Legend to turn different footprint types on and off. Zoom into map for a detailed view of the distribution of human footprint. This map can be explored in more detail in the ABMI Mapping Portal.


  • Between 1999 and 2017, the total area of human footprint in the Oil Sands Region increased by 3.9 percentage points from 11.7% to 15.6%. 
  • This increase in human footprint was driven by the expansion of forestry footprint, which more than doubled in size during this time from 1.7% to 4.0%. However, this increase in forestry footprint is lower when forest recovery is considered; forestry footprint increased by 1.9 percentage points (0.9% to 2.8%) when recovery of regenerating forest is included.
  • The remaining human footprint categories each had small increases < 1.0 percentage point between 1999-2017, including energy footprint which increased from 1.4% to 2.2%.
Human Footprint Type 1999 (km2) 2017 (km2) Change (km2)
Human Footprint Type 1999 (%) 2017 (%) Change (%)

Figure: Trend in Human Footprint. Trend in the percentage area of total human footprint, and by human footprint category in the Oil Sands Region between 1999 and 2017. Click on the entries in the legend to turn human footprint categories on and off.

Status of Linear Human Footprint

  • Density of linear features was 2.31 km/km2 in the Oil Sands Region.
  • Conventional seismic lines were the predominant line type, representing 69.6% of the total length of all lines with a density of 1.61 km/km2.
  • Pipelines, major roads, and minor roads represent almost 30% of line types in the Oil Sands Region, with densities of 0.28 km/km2, 0.27 km/km2, and 0.12 km/km2, respectively.
  • Transmission lines and railways had very low densities.
Type Density (km/km2)

Figure: Status of Linear Human Footprint. Density (km/km2) of linear features in the Oil Sands Region, circa 2018, overall and broken down by linear feature type. Hover over bar or legend to view density of specific linear feature type. Please note low impact seismic lines are not included in the summary of linear footprint density.

Figure: Map of Linear Human Footprint. Status of linear features, by line type, in the Oil Sands Region, circa 2018. Click on line types in the Legend to turn on and off. Zoom into map for a detailed view of the distribution of linear features. This map can be explored in more detail in the ABMI Mapping Portal.