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Canada's Oil Sands: Seeing them firsthand

Municipal leaders from B.C. tour Canada's oil sands and make up their own minds on what they mean for Canada and their communities

Members of the Southern Interior Local Government Association of B.C. tour Canada’s oil sands

There is substantial myth and folklore surrounding Canada’s oil sands industry. Ignoring the facts or not understanding them, often feeds into the myths.  Everyone from U.S. senators to international celebrities have weighed in with opinions. One way to cut through the noise is to see the oil sands for oneself. That’s what a group of mayors, councillors and senior administrators from the Southern Interior Local Government Association of B.C. (SILGA) did recently.

In many cases their communities are directly impacted by economic and environmental issues related to oil and natural gas production and pipeline corridors. So these municipal leaders and decision-makers accepted an invitation to tour several oil sands operations. They braved a snowy April 24 to fly to northern Alberta, see what’s going on there, and make up their own minds. We chatted with three SILGA members and here’s what they had to say:

Kim Maynard, Councillor, Princeton, B.C.

Kim Maynard, Councillor, Princeton, B.C.

Q: Why did you want to come on the oil sands tour?

A: I like to be informed and draw my own conclusions. There is just so much information and really, misinformation out there about everything including the oil sands. I really wanted to see things for myself. 

"I was very impressed with how the industry has found ways to be more efficient."

Kim Maynard, Princeton, B.C.
Q: What did you expect to see while in Fort McMurray and on the oil sands tour?

A: What I thought I might see has been informed by the news and some of it has been frankly casting the oil sands in a bad light.

Q: What was your experience?

A: I was very impressed with how the industry has found ways to be more efficient. We do need energy. I was especially impressed with how steam is used from a co-generation power plant to extract oil from the ground. Very energy-efficient and great for the environment. I feel much more confident about the oil sands and its development. 

Christine Fraser, Councillor, Spallmucheen, B.C.

Christine Fraser, Councillor, Spallmucheen, B.C.

Q: Why did you want to come on the oil sands tour?

A: I worked in the oil patch years ago; I really wanted to learn about what has changed and what was happening and learn firsthand all about the oil sands. I have been asked to oppose Kinder Morgan and I wanted to see for myself what was up.


Q: What did you expect to see while in Fort McMurray and on the oil sands tour?

"If people saw more about the process, they would be okay with the process."

Christine Fraser, Spallmucheen, B.C.

A: I had an idea from my past work experience, but I wanted to get an impression of the scale of activity. 

Q: What was your experience?

A: I did not realize how big the facilities are and the magnitude of the tailings ponds, especially compared to the in situ sites that are smaller and less intrusive and environmentally preferred. It is all a balance and we do need the energy as a resource. It was a very good trip to take. If people saw more about the process, they would be okay with the process. We need to ensure that tanker traffic is done in the same careful way. 

Debbie Sell, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Thompson-Nicola Regional District, B.C.

Debbie Sell, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Thompson-Nicola Regional District, B.C.

Q: Why did you want to come on the oil sands tour?

A: There is a lot of information out there on the oil sands and pipelines, and opposing views and much opposition. I really wanted to be as informed as I possibly could be. A tour is just a great opportunity to learn.

"The above ground surfacing mining is doing a good job at reclamation but needs to do a better job at explaining this to the public because it draws so much of the public’s attention."

Debbie Sell, Thompson-Nicola Regional District, B.C.

Q: What did you expect to see while in Fort McMurray and on the oil sands tour?

A: The different types of extraction and why they are used but in general the magnitude of what happens there — it is such an important and talked about area of our country. 

Q: What was your experience?

A: I was surprised at the impact of the surface mining operations compared to the in situ sites.  I understand the need and demand for oil products and the supply we have to offer, and the innovation and advancements in technology that are being applied to the operations — especially the in situ operations. The above ground surfacing mining is doing a good job at reclamation but needs to do a better job at explaining this to the public because it draws so much of the public’s attention. All in all, a good story to be told.