Red lights are flashing, but Ben Johnson pays them no mind. The long, lean, weathered engineer rests against a counter lined with computer monitors, describing life in the tar sands mines of Alberta, Canada. His task is to take a mud made of ore and water and “liberate the bitumen,” a tarlike oil that can be refined into conventional crude oil. He and two colleagues man a monitoring station that sits near the base of a cone-shaped structure the size of a three-story building. Mud and hot water flow into the middle of the inverted funnel. Bitumen rises to the top and spills over onto surrounding grates.