Is Edmonton North America’s Smoggiest City


Header credit: Sherwood Park News

SECLUDED deep in the Boreal forest, the oilsands in northern Alberta constantly hum and run, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — in order to keep the energy demands of the United States and Canada satisfied. Canada is the US’ largest exporter of oil and the province of Alberta produces by far the most and refines the most oil of any province. The dozen or so developments are just a 6 hour drive north of the city of Edmonton. Along the outskirts of the city, there are more than a dozen refineries that pump thousands of barrels of sweet crude flowing into them each day from the oilsands. This liquid gold can be turned into almost anything… Plastic, Fabric, Food Products, Animal Feed, Energy. The towering exhaust vents that billow exhaust into the sky can easily be seen from kilometers in the distance. The dangerous concentration of chemicals that come from these privately owned, for-profit facilities are potentially fatal for Canadians if they left unchecked for much longer.

The air quality that’s around Edmonton, Alberta (a metro population of about 1.5 million people) is at par or even worse than much more notoriously smoggy cities like Toronto and LA. The air that we’re all breathing in Wildrose country is highly toxic. AEMERA (Alberta’s Environment Monitoring Reporting and Evaluation) is the leading governmental organization that’s responsible for all environmental monitoring and testing within Alberta — including air quality and pollution in the oilsands region. Studies show that the air quality surrounding Alberta’s oilsands projects and the Industrial Heartland facilities — which are just outside of Edmonton — are full of harmful chemicals, like nitrogen dioxide and benzene, at extremely high levels that are not seen, according to SPN, anywhere else in North America.

During the four days of sampling… three days had dramatic spikes in the levels of benzene, for which they noted there is no safe level. One sample reached 11 parts per billion (ppb), one was 24 ppb, and a third sample came in at 156 ppb. Alberta’s recommended level of benzene is 9 ppb averaged over an hour.

Sherwood Park News

156 ppb! When recommended level is 9 ppb… The article goes on to say that, “These are the kinds of numbers we don’t see in Los Angeles.” The team members that were sampling the areas around Edmonton also mentioned “that although the four days of sampling were only a snapshot of local air quality, ‘it’s no fluke.’

How bad is the air quality, really?


Take a really good look at this map.

Colours ranging from light blue to red, depending on severity, with red being the highest level of pollution. According to data released by AEMERA, Alberta has a large area of yellow and red sections of nitrogen dioxide pollution, stretching from the southeast to north…

–Sherwood Park News

The most noticeable smog regions are definitely in the US. The big blob of smog that stretches all the way from Boston and NYC, to Chicago, Detroit and to the Mississippi River. There are dark red spots are above almost every major city. A different article also came out in 2015, this one from the University of Alberta, saying that:

No significant shifts [in air quality] were found.

They claim that their research showed no harmful chemicals, of any kind, in the air which they studied in 2000. They were only concentrating on the communities that were nearest to the oilsand projects — not Edmonton’s air quality. Areas like Fort McMurray and Fort Mckay. The University added that “slight changes that do exist are more likely due to population growth along with oil production.” And that in 2010 “Under the panel’s recommendation and model, AEMERA will monitor air quality in the Athabasca oilsands to ensure pollution levels remain low.” From 2016, an article titled ‘Calgary households second only to Edmonton in greenhouse gas emissions‘ reported that,

Montreal homes were ranked the greenest — at 5.4 tonnes per year — largely because of the widespread use of clean hydroelectric power… The… dense population also means motorists spend less time commuting and guzzling gas.

–Calgary Herald

So that means that “If you live in Montreal, you can walk to your grocery store, you can walk your kids to school. You don’t have to be driving everywhere, whereas in Edmonton, unfortunately, you do.”

How big are Alberta’s oilsands?

These GoogleEarth screenshots were taken from the same level. The City of Edmonton is above (actually a larger area than New York City) and it seems insignificant in comparison to the oilsands below



684 km2 City of Edmonton (Google)
60 km2 City of Fort McMurray (Google)
1,585 km2 Approx. Size of Developed Projects (2008)
661,848 km² Area of the Province of Alberta (Google)
142,000 km2 Oil reserves in Alberta (2011)

Almost 22% of Alberta is destined to be torn up, just like the area that’s around Fort McMurray. The way that the various minerals and resources are extracted, and how they produced into materials and energy that we all end up consuming is really horrific sight to see from space. Refineries just appear to be too close to home, sometimes.

Getty Images

Everyone wants a healthy economy. It is what runs the system which we are all a part of. A few kinks in the chain and the whole machine would crumble. I’m not advocating for a radical shift in our economy, rather, I want to see more responsible usage and implementation of these theories like “capitalism.” Don’t us the humans control the economy, not the other way around? Allowing this system, this systemic problem, to perpetually destroy our planet’s ecosystem and us in the process, just for personal profit, is a total suicide mission.

Buried under Canada’s boreal forest is one of the world’s largest reserves of oil. Bitumen—a very thick and heavy form of oil (also called asphalt)—coats grains of sand and other minerals in a deposit that covers about 142,200 km2. According to a 2003 estimate, Alberta has the capacity to produce 174.5 billion barrels of oil.



Click Here for a time lapse of the expansions from 1984-2011

The ultimate crux of our time is to our fragile environment. Our most important responsibility is to educating ourselves and demanding change from our respective provincial and federal governments. They all still ignore that it’s crumbling. The wealthy corporations that exploit lands for profit are so powerful — they will never stop searching for more revenue. We cannot ignore anymore what kind of negative effects are resulting from this drunken frenzy for oil. We have to start doing what isn’t worth money. We have to stop profiting off of energy creation in order to destroy the planet.logo