|August 2012 - The Oil Sands Up Close|
In mid-July, I was part of a group of MPs invited by the MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca, Brian Jean, to tour oil sands operations in his riding.
What was most striking to me was to fly over a portion of the Athabasca River by helicopter and see bitumen seeping naturally into the river from the banks! This wasn't the result of industrial activity, it was simply a natural phenomena which underscores how rich the sand in the area is in oil – particularly on this scorching 37 C summer day. Curious about this, I checked Google and found that explorers inthe1800s also reported seeing natural seepage into the river – years before the settlers arrived.
Overall, I saw that in contrast to the images splashed all over the internet, the vast majority of oil sands production takes place below the surface, using what are called in situ processes. Surface mining accounts for a small percentage of the oil extraction.
The roaming bison herds were an inspiring sight – even more so when I learned that they were grazing on land that had been mined for bitumen years before and was now certified as reclaimed land (the process of reconverting disturbed land to its former or other productive uses). It’s a milestone that assures the cycle is complete as the land is reverted back to Crown land.
Let’s be clear, oil sands extraction does have some impact on the landscape when in the process of extraction. However, the reclamation requirements, testing, approvals and environmental rigour make the before and after view as priceless as the roaming bison.
The oil sands are a critical lynchpin in the Canadian economy too – fuelling other manufacturing and technology spin-offs. The energy sector now accounts for 6.8 per cent of Canada’s GDP and 16 per cent of total investments, with the oil sands being the largest contributor. These economic opportunities bring well-paying engineering, geological, business and skilled trades jobs, and increased tax revenues for federal and provincial coffers – all a benefit to Canadians from coast to coast.
As a final thought, it's been a hot summer and I hope for the sake of our farmers that we get a substantial rain imminently!