Alberta, Andrew Nikiforuk writes in this month's issue of Foreign Policy, has become the "ground zero of Canada's oil boom" -- one that has turned the country into a "rogue petrostate" that conjures up a "dystopian vision of the continent's energy-soaked future." Alberta boasts the world's third-largest petroleum reserves, and oil companies have spent the last decade investing about $160 billion to develop the Western province into a black gold mine that produces about 1.7 million barrels of oil a day. And they're not stopping there: the Canadian government hopes to hit 5 billion barrels a day by 2030.
Along the way, the operation has also created about 6 billion barrels of toxic sludge -- "enough," Nikiforuk notes, "to flood the entirety of Washington, D.C." In October 2009, photographer Mark Ralston took striking and, at times, haunting photos of this very operation -- one that is wringing every last drop of bitumen it can from Canadian soil.
Above, a disused mining machine looms in front of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images