CALGARY, Alberta, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Operations at the Athabasca oil sands project in Canada produced 500 million barrels since work began in 2003, operator Shell announced.
John Abbot, executive vice president for heavy oil operations at Shell, described the production mark as a milestone for North American energy security.
"The oil sands are a secure, reliable source of energy for North America and an economic engine which drives employment, training and business development across Canada and beyond," he said in a statement.
So-called oil sands in Canada make up the third-largest source of oil after Saudi Arabia. The crude oil type is controversial because it may be more corrosive than conventional crude oil. It's heavier than water, making potential cleanup operations difficult.
Safety factors have moved to the front of the debate over a series of pipelines that would carry Canadian oil. Political debates in the United States have focused on the Keystone XL pipeline planned from Alberta, while Canadian lawmakers have locked horns over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
A tar sands release from the Lakehead oil pipeline system in Michigan in 2010 was the costliest onshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Shell said it plans to build a carbon capture and storage facility near Edmonton that could capture more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide from tar sands production. The facility would go into service in 2015 if approved by federal authorities.