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Canada’s Oil Sands: 50 years this September

Canada’s first large-scale, commercial oil sands facility launched a home-grown industry characterized by entrepreneurism and innovation.

On a cold and overcast morning of September 30, 1967, oil executives, government officials and other dignitaries—a total of 600 VIPs—assembled just north of the fledgling town of Fort McMurray. They were there for the dedication opening the Great Canadian Oil Sands mining site—the first commercial oil sands project in the world. Then-Alberta premier, Ernest Manning, gave a speech saying:

Workers construct the Great Canadian Oil Sands site in 1966. Photo credit: Glenbow Archives PA-3672-4.

“It is fitting that we gather here today to dedicate this plant not merely to the production of oil, but to the continual progress and enrichment of mankind.”

Did Premier Manning anticipate that the oil sands would someday evolve into Canada’s dominant source of oil production, growing to 2.4 million barrels of oil per day in 2016, with a forecast to reach 3.7 million barrels per day by 2030? Or that the innovative spirit that enabled the first commercial extraction of crude oil from the oil sands would continue: leading to inventions like in situ SAGD (steam-assisted gravity drainage), which enabled the extraction of oil sands resources too deep to reach via mining methods? And the creation of the Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), with oil sands companies sharing a plethora of environmental technologies, valued at more than $1.3 billion, aimed at reducing the oil sands impact on land, water and GHG emissions?

As Canada’s oil sands industry turns 50 years old, and our nation turns 150, it’s worth reflecting on the home-grown vision, pioneering spirit and industriousness that led to the creation of the world’s third-largest oil reserves.

Suggested reading:

Edmonton Journal: “Oilsands @ 50: Triumph over challenges gave rise to Alberta’s oilsands”