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Fort McMurray Oil Sands


Fort McMurray, located in the northeast part of Alberta in the middle of the Athabasca oil sands, has made a significant contribution to the development of the national petroleum industry. It is rightly regarded as a capital of oil sands. These oil sands, positioned mostly in the McMurray Formation, consist of a mixture of crude bitumen, silica sand, clay minerals, and water.

The history of Fort McMurray oil sands

Hopes of exploiting the oil sands have waxed and waned over the years, and the population of McMurray has fluctuated accordingly. The Research Council of Alberta built a pilot plant to extract oil from the sand on the Clearwater River in the years 1929 to 1930. The Federal Department of Mines undertook the mining for this plant. A small privately-owned plant was established at Bitumount about 1930 and it operated intermittently until 1944 when the Government of Alberta took a financial interest and later assumed complete control of the project for building a new separation plant on this site. This plant was acquired in 1954 by the Royalite Oil Company Limited for experimental purposes.

Another plant was built by private capital at Abasand in the valley of the Horse River near McMurray. This plant began operating in 1940 and was bought by the Federal Government in 1943 to give its officers experience in plant operation and facilities for full-scale experiments in oil-sand separation. It was destroyed by fire in 1945. During 1959 a pilot plant was erected at Mildred Lake by Canadian Cities Service Petroleum Corporation.

Frontier oil sands project

Frontier oil sands project is a project that proposes to build an oil sands mine near Fort McMurray. The development of this project is estimated to cost $20.6bn, and Teck Resources and SilverBirch Energy jointly own it. The project is expected to create 7,000 construction jobs and 2,500 jobs throughout its operations for the life of mine of approximately 41 years. The project is currently undergoing a joint provincial-federal regulatory review process. The construction is planned to be started in 2019, with the first oil production scheduled for 2026.

If approved, it is estimated that the Frontier oil sands project will consist of different surface mining operations. It will also include a processing plant, tailings management facilities, water management facilities, and associated infrastructure and support facilities.

How does the Frontier mining process look like?

Here how the Frontier mining process looks like:

Frontier Mining Process (picture from teck.com)
Frontier Mining Process (picture from teck.com)

The Frontier project will be a long-term source of jobs and economic development for Alberta and Canada in general. This project will incorporate industry-leading technologies to achieve Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions intensity of approximately one half of the oil sands industry average. The Frontier will have a lower carbon intensity than about half of the oil currently refined in the United States, and the project will be among the most economical GHG-intensity oil sands operations.

The Frontier is an innovative and environmentally responsible project in oil sands development. It will have one of the lowest water use intensities in the oil sands, and it promises to reclaim the land as soon as mining begins.