Commissioning of one of the first bucket wheel excavators at Fort McMurray. Bechtel

This video popped up on my YouTube feed, and it is definitely worth the 40 minutes or so to watch. It’s about the earliest history of the oil sands, and concludes with the opening of the first major oil sands plant by Sun Oil Company Ltd., which is now Suncor, Canada’s largest oil producer. It was known as the Great Canadian Oil Sands Project, at Tar Island, north of Fort McMurray.

Note how the initial production and pipeline to handle it was only 45,000 barrels per day, not a lot more than the Weyburn Unit at its peak. But look at what it has become now, something like 3 million barrels per day. Also note how Fort McMurray started with 1,200 people at the beginning of the film, and grew to 5,000. It also shows construction of the first bridge, and airport. You also see construction and operation of the first two bucket wheel exacavators, a technology that was later abandoned in the oil sands in favour of truck and shovel mining, still in use today.

The film, called The Fabulous Oil Sands, was produced by Bechtel, which at the time was, and still is, one of the world’s leading engineering, procurement and management companies. Note that “oil sands” and “tar sands” are used interchangeably throughout the film by politicians and businesspeople alike. These days, “tar sands” is seen as pejorative and negative, and is usually only used by critics of the operation.

I have a personal connection to this. My stepdad, Brad Stroud, went to work in the oil sands in the late 70s, about 12 years after the conclusion of this video. He worked as a service man for Keno Construction, and then Carlan Enterprises. He again spent some time there in the early 2000s, working for North American Construction, when pipeline work in Saskatchewan dried up.

So if you have some time to kill this long weekend, check it out.


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