Far north of Texas, another great North American oil reserve sits, waiting — some say — to be further exploited. The province of Alberta is Canada's main oil producer: 97 percent of the country's proven reserves — 166.3 billion barrels — can be found in its oil sands. The reserve, buried beneath a layer of muskeg and forest in the northeastern part of the province, holds a reservoir of heavy crude oil known as bitumen, mixed with sand, clay and water. That oil is recovered by either mining or drilling: Both methods are more expensive than the means used to recover conventional oil reserves.
The Alberta oil sands already produce 3.6 million barrels of oil per day, and plans are to increase that to 3.9 million by 2027, but the province is facing a problem of oversupply. The infrastructure is in place to produce the oil, but the oil sands only have access to the North American market via crude-by-rail. The price differential between the unrefined bitumen produced in Canada and what American refineries can get for the synthetic crude they make out of it isn't favorable to the Canadian market.
The bottom line: "Low oil prices have put the Alberta economy in crisis," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Chamber of Commerce in November.
Difficulties attracting investment and the price gap, which reached a record low late last year, are stymying efforts to ramp up production and boost exports beyond North America to lucrative markets in Asia.
A second oil pipeline that would run through neighboring British Columbia to the west coast could solve that problem and get the oil revenue-dependent province back on track. That's what the convoy that arrived in the Canadian capital two weeks ago drove 2,000 miles to demand from the federal government.
The United We Roll truckers' convoy numbered around 170 vehicles when it left Red Deer, Alberta. The motley band of semis, pickup trucks and cars driven by Alberta oil workers and supporters they picked up along the way arrived in Ottawa a few days later and staged several peaceful protests before departing.
"Alberta's hurting. We're hurting for jobs, and it shows," convoy member Mike Jepson told the CBC. Alberta's economy is heavily dependent on oil, and a spike or drop in the price of oil results in thousands of job losses, both in the oil sector and elsewhere. As of January 2019, unemployment in the province sits at 6.8 percent. The province's leadership, under Premier Rachel Notley, has been criticized for failing to prioritize diversifying the economy to provide some protection from volatile oil prices.