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Zvonko Burkus, a water process specialist for the Alberta Environmental and Sustainable Resource Development, will discuss the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, in a presentation at 7 p.m. today in Hagg-Sauer Hall 100 at Bemidji State University. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Tar sands to be discussed tonight at Bemidji State University

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BEMIDJI – A Canadian scientist tonight will deliver a presentation on the oil sands in Alberta.

Zvonko Burkus, Ph.D., a water process specialist for the Alberta Environmental and Sustainable Resource Development, will speak at 7 p.m. in Hagg-Sauer Hall 100 at Bemidji State University.

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The Alberta oil sands are the third-largest source of proven crude oil reserves in the world, next to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the Canadian government. They produce 1.5 million barrels per day, with 3.3 million barrels per day expected by 2019.

Burkus, staying in Bemidji in advance of his presentation, said he will speak to address misconceptions about the oils sands, particularly concerning environmental impacts.

Private companies purchase the mineral rights for land in the oil sands and then mine out the bitumen, a heavy oil found within a natural mixture with sand, water and clay.

Extraction is done by either surface mining or in situ – in-place mining – which goes into deep underground deposits within minimal surface impacts, Burkus said. After extraction, the bitumen is purified and upgraded into synthetic crude oil.

As of June 2010, there were 91 active oil sands projects in Alberta, of which just four were surface-mining projects; the others use various methods of in situ recovery, according to the Canadian government.

Burkus said the government does not hide anything from the public with the mining operations, noting that frequent public tours are held.

“Quite a few numbers of people have gone into the mines,” he said. “Standing in the bottom of the mine, you can see how it is changing the world.”

Alberta’s oil sands make up the largest reserve accessible to a free market.

Just 21 percent of the world’s oil reserves are accessible to private-sector investors, those that are not government-run, according to the Canadian government. Of those, 53 percent are in Alberta’s oil sands.

“We are open to the free market,” Burkus said.

The Canadian government reports that by 2020, Alberta will produce 3.7 billion barrels of oil a day, compared to 2 million today, which could greatly reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

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