Alberta continues to boom with resource development,
and the world is watching as the oil sands
industry stakes its claim as a world-class oil producer.
But, it’s not all fossil fuels in the province—oil and
coal is joined by industrial minerals and other mineral
exploration initiatives, promising continued
growth and potential diversification for Canada’s
Oil sands empire
Oil sands is, of course, the primary industry, with
approximately 174 billion barrels of proven reserves,
totalling a potential 500 years of supply at the current
production rate of about 1 million bbls/day. From
1996 to 2005, $44 billion was invested in oil sands
development. The Alberta oil sands are centred in
three locations:Peace River,Athabasca, and Cold Lake.
A number of oil sands construction projects were
completed or ongoing throughout 2006.
• The construction of the Syncrude Upgrader
Expansion 1 (UE1) component of the Stage 3 project,
completed in May. The Stage 3 expansion is
designed to increase Syncrude’s production to
• Suncor has two projects under construction: the
Millennium Cokey Project will bring the plant
upgrading capacity to a nominal 350,000 bpd,and
Firebag Phase 3 construction commenced.
• Building of the Long Lake Project by OPTI Canada
and joint-venture partner Nexen Inc. is progressing—
an integrated SAGD in situ project with
upgrading facilities.Total design capacity is 70,000
bpd. First steam was scheduled for late 2006 and
upgrader startup for mid-2007.
• Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is well underway
with Phase I of its Horizon Project, a $10.8 billion
integrated mine and upgrader to produce
232,000 bpd, scheduled to enter production in the
second half of 2008.
• Construction began this summer for Access
Pipeline, a joint venture between MEG Energy
Corp. and Devon ARL Canada Corp., to transport
production from the companies’ Christina Lake
and Jackfish developments.
Coal is the runner-up for Alberta’s minerals activity,
as the province’s coal contains more energy than
all other provincial hydrocarbons combined, with
33.5 billion tonnes of remaining reserves.With 1,000
years of supply available at the current product rate
of approximately 30 million tonnes per year, and
innovative technologies on the horizon such as gasification,
the future of coal remains confident.
There are 11 major coal mines in the province, typically
producing around 30 million tonnes of marketable
coal. Approximately 12 million tonnes comes
from the Highvale mine alone. Over 85 per cent of
the 30 million tonnes of coal mined annually in
Alberta is used in power plants.
Industrial minerals and metals activity
The primary industrial mineral of importance produced
in Alberta is limestone for cement, lime, and
crushed stone. There has been an increase in
Alberta’s crushed stone aggregate production to
supplement the large and increasing demand for
sand and gravel (granular) aggregate.
Sulphur, as a by-product from oil and gas production,
ranks third with respect to production of
non-metallic minerals in Alberta. Other industrial
minerals include salt, silica-sand, building stone, and
During 2006 several companies actively explored
two regions of the province for uranium.In the northeast,
unconformity-type and vein-type uranium
deposits of the Athabasca Basin are being targeted
with airborne, electromagnetic, radiometric, and
magnetic surveys, and detailed marine seismic data
was gathered. Potential targets for unconformitytype
uranium deposits have been identified.
In southern Alberta, sediment-hosted uranium
deposits are the target, with recent exploration activities
including reconnaissance prospecting, rock and
water-well sampling, geological examinations, and a
small-scale Track-Etch cup survey. At least two com-
panies have conducted follow-up drill programs during
the past year.
Diamondiferous kimberlites were discovered in
northern Alberta in 1997 and an estimated $100 million
has been spent on further exploration for diamonds
since.Approximately 48 kimberlites have been
discovered, with 38 of them occurring in the Buffalo
Head Hills area. Mini-bulk samples have yielded diamond
grades from about 4.4 carats per hundred
tonnes (CPHT) to 55 cpht; one breccia showed an estimated
grade of 85 cpht. In 2006, exploration for diamonds
has also focused on several other areas such as
the Birch Mountains, the Pelican Mountains, the Peace
River area, and east-central Alberta.
In east-central Alberta, near Cold Lake, 31,000 linekilometres
of high-resolution airborne magnetic surveys
have been completed and plans are to conduct
sampling of surficial materials and drill testing of
selected targets. In the Piche Lake area of east-central
Alberta, a 14,760 line-kilometre airborne magnetic
survey was conducted to follow up on eight highpriority
targets that were identified. Companies
actively exploring for diamonds in 2006 include
Ashton Mining of Canada (JV with Encana Corp. and
Pure Gold Minerals Inc.), Grizzly Diamonds,
Stornoway Diamond Corp., Diamondex Resources,
Shear Minerals, and Carina Resources.
Some staking activity has occurred over the last
year in the Zama Lake area to delineate possible Pb-Zn
mineralization; airborne geophysical surveys and overburden
drilling programs were planned for late 2006.
Magnetite-bearing sandstones in southwestern
Alberta continue to be explored and assessed, along
with proximal titanium and zirconium-rich mineral
occurrences. Exploration for iron in Cretaceous sandstones
is continuing in northwestern Alberta; a
drilling program was conducted in 2006.
information available at www.ags.gov.ab.ca.