Sept/Oct 2010

Voices from Industry

Facts are friendly: Appreciating and valuing the mining industry in Canada

By Gord Winkel, chair, Surface Mining Association for Research and Technology

Gord WinkelThe U.S.-based environmental group, Rainforest Action Network, recently announced that they would be expanding their controversial anti-oil sands advertising campaign to Britain. A representative of the group said billboards showing oil-coated ducks in an Alberta oil sands waste pond would begin popping up around London, England, and ads would be running on some of the country's most popular websites. Similar to the "Rethink Alberta" campaign launched in the U.S. earlier this summer, it urges vacationers not to travel to Alberta. The group is also endeavoring to convince European banks to stop lending money to companies with interests in the oil sands industry.

The propagation of misinformation and flawed perspectives regarding the performance and impact of the oil sands, and other sectors of our industry, continues to be an item of great concern for many. In some cases, the media has unfortunately worked to favour these distorted perspectives, which in turn negatively influences society’s view on mining in Canada. Mass campaigns such as “Rethink Alberta” play on the public’s emotions with a blatant disregard for the whole story.

In the face of this challenge, it is up to us to present the facts. As the title suggests, facts are friendly; they do not harbor any agenda or emotion, they are not defensive or threatening, they just simply and accurately reflect what is truly happening.

When it comes to the oil sands industry, we have some very positive facts to share. It is a story that needs to be told in Canada on behalf of the people, communities and industry that have worked to develop our oil sands into the success it is today, promoting a safe sustainable resource supply for society now and into the future.

Do the oil sands have challenges? Certainly. However, the facts help demonstrate that this unique resource industry in Canada is making best efforts on many fronts, leading to outstanding achievements. So the next time you are confronted with challenges to how the oil sands are viewed, please encourage those around you to “think again” by sharing some of the facts presented below. Every one of us can be an ambassador for mining by making the effort to share our facts when the opportunity arises. After all, facts are friendly!

The facts…

  • The oil sands reserve of 170 billion barrels is second only to Saudi Arabia with a potential for more than 100 years of production. About 20 per cent of the bitumen is accessed using surface mining techniques, and the balance using in situ drilling. Both of the approaches are still the focus of a significant research effort that continually delivers on improvements to bitumen recovery and environmental performance.
  • Actual land disturbance to date of the Canadian boreal forest from oil sands development totals less than a couple of hundredths of one per cent — an area less than that of either of the two nearest major cities, Edmonton and Calgary.
  • Significant areas have already been reclaimed as operations progress and all disturbed land will be reclaimed as operations conclude. Syncrude Canada Ltd. alone has planted some five million trees and shrubs, reclaimed over 4,500 hectares (22 per cent) of disturbed lands, recycles 87 per cent of its process water, has reduced energy intensity by 39 per cent to produce a barrel of oil, spent nearly $100 million in 2009 on reclamation, and will spend an estimated $1.6 billion to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 60 per cent.
  • Oil sands life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are comparable to domestic and imported conventional crude oils, with 75 per cent of GHG emissions from fuel consumption not impacted by the source of crude oil. Oil sands’ total GHG emissions are less than five per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions.
  • The air quality in Fort McMurray in the heart of the oil sands is rated as good or better than that in Edmonton, Calgary or Toronto.
  • Actual water withdrawal rates from the Athabasca River total less than one per cent of total river flow (a third of Toronto’s annual water consumption) and about five per cent of the lowest weekly winter flows. Regional aquatic monitoring programs show no measureable impacts to the Athabasca River ecosystem.
  • Within the confines of the minimal land disturbance described previously, it comes close to 1.4 million barrels of production a day to service Canada’s energy requirements. Currently, there are over 110,000 jobs in Canada linked to the oil sands. Oil sands development over the next 25 years will contribute $1.7 trillion to the Canadian economy with purchases for goods and services of $170 billion from provinces outside of Alberta.
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