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Story Publication logo July 28, 2014

Field Notes Podcast: Alberta's Oil Sands


Image by Alex MacLean. Canada, 2014.

Alberta’s oil sands region is at the heart of the KeystoneXL pipeline controversy. A project built...

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Excavating bitumen at the Syncrude Mildred Lake mining site. Giant tires line traffic circle. Image by Alex MacLean. Canada, 2014.

I spoke over the phone recently with Pulitzer Center grantee Dan Grossman about his newest project, "The Big Picture: Alberta's Oil Sands." Early this past spring, Dan traveled north to a remote region of Canada's Alberta province, home to tar sands that make up the third largest oil reserve in the world, surpassed only by the oil fields of Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. The Brobdingnagian scale of the tar sands mining operations can be difficult to fathom—the mines are crawling with dump trucks so large they could fit small homes in their buckets, and many mines are equipped with tailing ponds the size of Manhattan. These oil fields are also bringing about environmental repercussions of an equally mind-boggling scope.

To fully capture the mining in Alberta, Dan, along with aerial photographer Alex MacLean, took to the skies in a Cessna 722, a plane whose cabin is comparable to that of a Volkswagen Beetle. In our conversation, Dan recounted what it was like to soar over the oil sands, bearing witness to humanity's unquenchable thirst for oil energy. We also spoke about the parts of this story that cannot be told from the air.

Dan also discussed the decision to take to Indiegogo, the international crowdfunding site, to raise $10,000 to fund additional reporting on the project. If they are able to return, Alex hopes to document the tar sands under different seasonal conditions, showing what he wasn't able to show in the snowy Canadian spring. Likewise, Dan would like to pursue aspects of the story not yet covered, diving deeper into the difficult decisions that indigenous communities face—to get on the mining bandwagon, or to get run over by it.

The Pulitzer Center is pleased to announce that we will match the next $3,000 that Dan and Alex are able to raise on Indiegogo. If you would like to see more on this critical story, we urge you to visit the Indiegogo site and add your name to the list of contributors.

Subscribe to Pulitzer Center: Field Notes to hear more episodes.






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Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change
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Extractive Industries

Extractive Industries

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