Sept/Oct 2008

Answering a towering need

One of the largest oil and gas construction projects in North America – Athabasca Oil Sands Expansion 1

By M. Sabourin

Construction site, Albian Sands Expansion 1

The Athabasca Oil Sands Project Expansion 1 (AOSP Expansion 1) is among the largest oil and gas construction projects currently underway in North America.

When completed around 2010, the AOSP Expansion 1 will assist Shell Canada Ltd. and its joint venture partners, Marathon Oil Sands L.P. and Chevron Canada Limited, help meet the world’s rapidly growing energy needs. It will increase the bitumen capacity of the Albian Sands mining operations and the Shell Scotford Upgrader by 100,000 barrels per day (Shell’s share: 60,000 barrels per day).

The planned expansion includes the construction of Jackpine mine — located on Shell’s lease 13, east of the existing Muskeg River mine — and the expansion of the froth treatment facilities. As well, Shell is constructing a new upgrader 450 kilometres north of this new mine, beside its existing upgrader and refinery.

Bitumen from the Albian Sands Expansion 1 (future Jackpine mine) will be diluted and transported to the Scotford Upgrader Expansion 1 via the Corridor Pipeline, which is owned and operated by Inter Pipeline Fund.

A strong foundation

A construction project of this magnitude requires a massive workforce — no easy mandate given Alberta’s now notorious labour shortage. To recruit and retain the sheer number of workers needed to build the mining and extraction facilities as well as the infrastructure, such as power lines, roads and pipelines, Shell and its engineering procurement construction management companies, Bechtel and AMEC/Colt, offer attractive compensation packages.

“We knew that if we hoped to be successful in hiring the number of skilled workers required, we needed to offer attractive compensation and an infrastructure that helped them feel at home,” said Paul Hagel, senior communications representative for the oils sands project at Shell Canada. “We delivered on both counts, offering great pay with a world-class work camp that resembles a hotel more than a camp,”

Completed in July 2007, the “Albian Village” serves as the primary accommodation for the skilled workers building the future Jackpine mine. This 2,500-person work camp features individual dormitory rooms for employees, a full games room with a dozen pool tables and dart boards, as well as an onsite pub. It also has an indoor running track, skating and hockey rink, racquet ball and squash courts, and a full weight-training facility and gymnasium with his and her saunas. “We even have recreational coordinators onsite who organize all of the activities for workers after hours,” declared Hagel. “They arrange everything from yoga classes to hockey, soccer and basketball games. It’s just a first-class facility that helps the men and women building this project feel at home while they are away from their families.”

Shell also built a new airstrip to get workers to and from the construction site more quickly and safely. The Albian Aerodrome Airstrip, located one kilometre from Jackpine mine, is among the largest private airstrips in Canada and can accommodate the Airbus A320 family and smaller aircraft such as the Boeing 737.

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