The Big Picture: Alberta’s Oil Sands

"KeystoneXL" conjures up a pipeline, emissions of CO2, and the extent of impact on jobs and climate change. The oil in question comes from a remote region of Canada's Alberta province, however, obscuring for many just how vast this project is. The Alberta oil sands comprise the world’s third largest oil reserve, underlying an Iowa-sized parcel of bog and boreal forest. The mines and related facilities also constitute one of the earth’s largest industrial projects. Each mine complex—of which there are many—measures up to about 10 miles across. Waste ponds rival the size of Manhattan.

Aerial photographer Alex MacLean photographs the tar sands activities from 1,000 feet above, capturing the project's extraordinary scale and impact. Alex is a fine arts photographer focusing on environmental issues. His images engage viewers with patterns, juxtapositions and visual mysteries. MacLean and environmental journalist Dan Grossman use light and unique viewing angles and draw on interviews with experts and local resident to document the monumental size and impact of the work, from extracting ore and managing waste to the transporting of materials and housing people.