Critics of oil sands, particularly those from outside Alberta, like to characterize it as the energy industry’s dirty little secret.
Oil sands site tours are readily available for those who can (and can't) make the trip. Photo credit: Suncor Energy.
They say industry is so embarrassed by oil sands development that it goes to great lengths to hide it from the public and certainly doesn’t want people poking around the Fort McMurray area to see for themselves. And they like to cast themselves as intrepid environmental secret agents, bravely entering the hellhole that is tar sands mining to reveal the truth we are desperately trying to cover up.
It’s a great story for campaigners to impress upon existing and prospective supporters, except for two small but significant flaws.
First, oil sands development is not a secret. Anyone from foreign dignitaries to tourists passing through the province can visit oil sands production sites.
Second, we don’t discourage visitors but welcome and encourage them. Suncor, for example, works with Fort McMurray Tourism to offer guided bus tours of our oil sands mine from late May through early September.
Industry embraces visitors, but not simply to prove we have nothing to hide. In addition, we believe that by visiting, people will see not only the impact of oil sands development but also the enormous economic and engineering achievement that it represents for Canada.
We also hope visitors will take away a first-hand understanding of the contribution our sector is making to keep the wheels of transport turning across North America, and our efforts to reduce development impacts on Alberta’s environment.
But if you or your friends can’t get here in person, we also offer a virtual tour. (Although to be honest, you really won’t get a true feel for the scale of the oil sands until you’ve checked your height against a four-metre-tall tire from one of our Caterpillar 797 mining trucks.)
In 2011 Suncor guided more than 3,600 individuals on almost 200 tours through our oil sands sites. We are hoping to host more visitors in 2012. Notable attractions include:
- Your own personal protection gear, where fluorescent vests, fully adjustable hardhats and two-safety glasses are mainstays of our spring and summer collection;
- The Aurora Borealis, nature’s free light show, which beats anything Las Vegas can offer;
- Reclamation in action, where the former site of a tailings pond is being transformed into a mixed wood forest and small wetland.
So when you consider your summer travel plans, don’t discount heading to the Fort McMurray area. We may be biased, but in our view, our sand is a lot more fun to be around than the stuff you find at your typical beach.