Thursday, August 26, 2010


I can barely keep this blog up it seems but better late than never I guess! This spring I got the opportunity to work for Terra Erosion Control up in Syncrude's oil sands operations. After listening to so many talking heads discuss the pros and cons of the oil sands, it was pretty cool to not just see the whole place, but to be part of the operations. As usual with the work I tend to do, it's satisfying to be part of the "mending" end of things.

The project I was working on involved stabilizing reclaimed oil sand and preparing it for vegetation colonization. My job was to drive a quad and trailer through the bush selecting and cutting suckering species. I harvested these while still in winter hibernation, and bundled them together with all branches cut off. These bundles can then be placed horizontally throughout the tailings. This prevents runoff gullying, allowing vegetation to take root. When the bundles warm up, they will sucker out from the old branches, root, and form a living wall like a hedge.

The team I worked with was an interesting lot. One guy was a Sherpa from Nepal who worked as a high level porter for 6 years. Another guy was a whitewater raft guide in the summer. Another was a former Canadian Telemark Skiing champion, another was a sculptor from the Kootneys, another guy runs a music festival every summer. Good people always makes a job interesting. Good weather helps too, in the month I was there only a week of -20. Quading in -20 makes for some bad wind chills so I was glad that most of the month hovered around zero.

The scale of the oil sands is pretty impressive. It feels very much as though you are taking part in some sci-fi planetary terraforming. I had to undertake two days of certification to just be allowed site access. The trucks are incredible, the scale of the processing is massive and the active mine areas are huge. The security is pretty amazing as well with checkpoints and special id scans frequent. But quite apart from how spectacular it all is, it was great to see the reclaimed land. I poked around some of it and found it hard to tell the difference between it and the original land. I encountered deer, rabbits, mice and a mink in the reclaim which is a pretty good sign.

I found the oil workers up there unlike the rig-pig stereotype I was half expecting. Perhaps it's all the time I've spent in Slave Lake working on the periphery of the oil patch. There's plenty of rough and tumble up there, and plenty of people I have nothing in common with, but the city is no different. Up there at least everyone shares a few things in common. Everyone respects hard work and results.

All in all, a great experience that I hope paid the way for more contracts in the future.

day 30
5 am half asleep leaving my hotel in Ft Mac