This Dilbert comic exaggerates the absurdity of some people when it comes to obtaining sources of energy. Dilbert’s boss couldn’t be serious about wanting to turn water into oil. As Dilbert points out, it would turn the world into an uninhabitable wasteland in the long run. However, the idea of sacrificing water for oil isn’t that far-fetched. This article explains that for each barrel of oil produced from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, between two and 4.5 barrels of water are needed. Water is essential for extracting oil from the tar sands. The Alberta government has approved the withdrawal of 119.5 billion gallons of water, mainly from the Athabasca River, for tar sands extraction. Extraction companies are required to return only 10 billion gallons of water to the river.
Extracting large amounts of water from the river seems even more absurd considering the fact that experts are predicting that western Canada will likely face a drought situation. One expert says that future droughts will likely be far worse than the ones that turned the prairies into a dust bowl in the 1930s. Other provinces, like Saskatchewan and Manitoba, rely on the water from the rivers that pass through Alberta because they are downstream. This parallels the situation in Australia where so much water is being extracted upstream that not enough water is left for the regions downstream. Experts are also recommending that action be taken now to conserve the water. Any decisions regarding limiting the use of water for extracting oil from the tar sands will face strong opposition, because Canada’s economy relies so heavily on the tar sands. Some difficult decisions lay ahead. Perhaps Canada will be forced to change its view from the “Cowboy Economy” to the “Spaceman Economy” sooner than we think.