The oilsands during 50: Will they still be producing in 100 years?

On Sept. 30, 1967, a Great Canadian Oil Sands trickery non-stop north of Fort McMurray, Alta., with most fanfare, bunting and speeches by politicians.

It was a initial large-scale blurb operation of a oilsands, and a outcome of a play taken by Philadelphia’s Sun Oil and a arch executive, J. Howard Pew, and by 100,000 Alberta households who invested $1,500 any to buy a bond to account construction of a facility.

Alberta’s premier during a time, Ernest Manning, stood on a lectern and declared, “This is a ancestral day for a range of Alberta, and it is wise that we are here currently to dedicate this plant not merely to a prolongation of oil, though to a continual swell and improvement of mankind.”

While this is standard domestic hyperbole, Manning nailed during slightest a initial partial of his statement — it’s tough to consider anything else that has so influenced a mercantile instruction of Alberta in a past half century. But it’s puzzled that any of a dignitaries or oil workers that day could have likely a hilly highway ahead. 

See Alberta’s oil sands as they seemed in 1967, when they initial non-stop for large-scale blurb operation1:21

Not usually a economics, that have always been hold and go, though a changeable place that a oilsands hold in a Canadian consciousness, from being deliberate essential in a epoch of a OPEC oil embargo to a current discomfort many Canadians feel about a apparatus in a epoch of meridian change.

Sun Oil takes a flyer

Decades of investigate went into how best to detached bitumen from sand, investigate that continues today.

The Great Canadian Oil Sands operation itself was the story of Alberta wanting to denote a mercantile viability of a oilsands and Pew’s Philadelphia’s Sun Oil being peaceful to take a flyer in 1960s, according to Paul Chasko, an oilsands historian during a University of Calgary.

Great Canadian Oil Sands, Sept. 30, 1967

The Great Canadian Oil Sands trickery north of Fort McMurray, Alta., non-stop with good pushing on Sept. 30, 1967. It was a initial large-scale blurb operation of a oilsands. (CBC Archives)

“Not since this was going to furnish anything discernible for a association in a brief term,” pronounced Chasko. “But since Pew had a clarity this was important and had to be done, and because this was going to compensate dividends in a prolonged run.”

Pew’s play seemed unwise in a initial few years of development. CBC News repository enclose stories of Sun Oil holding hits on a oilsands projects by most of a 1970s. The plan mislaid income for many years, and according to a autobiography of former executive Rick George, a Canadian oilsands were deliberate “Pew’s folly” even into a 1990s.

The Trudeau factor

Great Canadian Oil Sands was not a usually actor in Fort McMurray in a 1960s. The Syncrude consortium, that began as a investigate project, was also requesting for permits in a late ’60s and scarcely fell off a precipice as a costs doubled during a construction phase to some-more than $2 billion. One of a subsidy companies, Atlantic Richfield, pulled out since it wanted to rise a oil find in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. 

This all probably sounds familiar to anyone who has watched a oilsands over a past decade, as sharpening costs and unfamiliar oil companies with priorities outward of Alberta are a consistent theme.

But in 1973, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau stepped in to save Syncrude. With Atlantic Richfield out, a project’s other partners were sent  scrambling, and a sovereign supervision took a 15 per cent interest in Syncrude. Ontario’s supervision took 10 per cent, and Alberta a serve 10 per cent, saving a plan from descending apart.


An oil workman binds tender oilsands nearby Fort McMurray, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

This may seem startling now, though in a early ’70s, oil seemed wanting and Ontario bought a appetite from offshore sources, where prices were spiking since of moves by OPEC. For his part, Trudeau wanted lots of hoary fuel growth in Canada. The dispute between Alberta and Ottawa during that time was over pricing and tenure of a resource.

“The tremendous concern at a time was that oil was a wanting resource,” pronounced John English, historian and former Ontario MP.

“We indispensable it, there was no concerns during that time about meridian change; if there was any fear, it was arch winter. The outcome was that this was a gamble on a destiny by a range that indispensable cheaper energy.”

What now?

The doubt now is around a destiny of a resource. Despite prognostications of doom, there are many factors that keep a oilsands in a game. Hundreds of billions of dollars have already been spent to move online what’s approaching to be scarcely 3 million barrels a day of prolongation in 2018. 

As well, oilsands production, once started, stays comparatively fast for decades. It would take an even crook dump in oil prices than we have seen in new years for producers to close in their production.

Steve Williams

Steve Williams, Suncor’s boss and CEO, says he expects a oilsands to still be producing in a subsequent century or more. (David Thurton/ CBC)

“I do consider that many of these resources have been built for 20- or a 40-year life, and we consider they will furnish to a finish of their useful lives, pronounced Jackie Forrest, executive of investigate during a Arc Energy Research Institute. “The oilsands represents about 3 per cent of global supply. It’s a vital member of a oil marketplace currently and will continue to be so for a prolonged time.”

200 years of oilsands?

Steve Williams, a arch executive of Suncor, has pronounced that his association will stay in a oilsands for 100 or 200 years, elucidate CO technological problems as it goes.

“We will acquire a right to be here for a subsequent 100 or 200 years. We have an positively world-class apparatus that’s been given to us Canadians,” pronounced Williams during an anniversary eventuality in Fort McMurray.

That’s a supply side of a equation. There are poignant questions about a direct side and when we will strike rise oil demand. And that’s wily to forecast.

“It feels like in Alberta, we’re in a bit of a bubble, in terms of general news,” pronounced Simon Dyer, informal executive of a Pembina Institute.

“You have countries like France and a U.K. announcing that they’ll be banning a explosion engine by 2040. You’ve got China and California oblivious about doing a same thing.

“The thought that a oilsands are going to continue for another 100, 200 years, we wouldn’t deposit in that.” 

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