Photo Essay: A Trip to the Oil Sands

The Oil Sands are back in the news, as a new round of Greenpeace efforts are targeting Suncor, the second time in recent weeks.

I have a tough time fully forming my opinion on the oil sands. Without a doubt, I am worried about their impact, particularly on our water sources. The greenhouse gas emissions are also a concern, but I worry that environmentalists are focusing too much on the oil sands. Most research shows that the bulk of the GHG emissions in the life-cycle of oil production comes in the transport fuel combustion phase, which is to say, when it is used by consumers. Product from the oil sands does create more emissions than conventional sources, but does it justify the effort that environmentalists are putting in to stop them?

My thought right now is no. We’d be best served focusing our efforts on reducing the need for oil. No demand, no oil sands production. It’s that simple. I worry that we’re going to lose the big picture in going after the oil sands.

But I’m open to arguments, and am by no means set in my view. I’d love to hear thoughts from others on this topic. In the meantime, here are some pictures of the oil sands. I had the opportunity to tour Syncrude’s Mildred Lake mine in July, and I appreciate the opportunity greatly. Here is a selection of photos from my visit.

The North Mine at Mildred Lake.

Mildred Lake Mine

The open mine pit, with the sulfur stack seen in the background.

Mildred Lake Mine

A truck gets ready to haul the product away.
Mildred Lake Mine

Want to get an idea of how big the trucks are in the mine? That’s one of the tires. Anton, in the foreground, is 6’7.
Big Tire

Machinery at work.
Syncrude Plant

Nice lake? Try tailings pond. Can’t tell the difference from a distance.
Tailings Pond

The tailings pond goes on for miles.
Tailings Pond

Here’s a closer look.
Tailings Pond

To be fair, this is all reclaimed land. You’d never know the difference. Syncrude started reclaiming this former mine site a few decades ago.
Reclaimed Land

The famous bison herd that has been reintroduced to the area.

Still, you tend to more remember sights like this:
Mildred Lake

And another one of the mine:
Mildred Lake Mine

And the giant trucks. We were told that one driver described it like “driving your house from the second story”

Trucking Sand

To end, a little bit of nature on the edge of Fort McMurray.
Fort McMurray

You can see my full photo set here.