If you are interested in learning more about oil sands, there are plenty of opportunities to do so in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. You can experience the oil sands first hand through museums, exhibits and reclamation sites.
Museums & Exhibits
For more than 30 years, the Oil Sands Discovery Centre has shared the history, science, and technology of Alberta’s Oil Sands. When you visit the Centre you can learn about the oil sands through interactive displays, films and live demos such as hot water extraction to show how bitumen is separated from oil sands. Make sure to sit in the 150-tonne heavy hauler truck to experience what it’s like to operate large scale equipment. There is also an outdoor Industrial Equipment Garden & Bucket wheel Exhibit with historical mining equipment that is open in the summer season.
If you follow Highway 63 north of Fort McMurray, you’ll find oil sands mining facilities. Located across from Syncrude’s Mildred Lake site is their Giants of Mining exhibit. Take a free, self-guided tour and get a close up look at some of the early equipment involved in oil sands mining that has since been retired such as the massive bucketwheel and dragline bucket.
Syncrude Wood Bison Viewpoint is located on reclaimed land that is now home to a bison ranch. This project began almost 30 years ago as a partnership with Fort McKay in an effort to test the stability of reclaimed land while reintroducing wood bison back into the area. Originally a herd of 30 wood bison were released onto the land and today over 300 Wood Bison live at the ranch. For a chance to glimpse wood bison make sure to stop at the viewpoint.
Gateway Hill and Matcheetawin (a Cree word meaning beginning place) Discovery Trails offer an up-close look of a reclaimed site with access to two nature trails. These sites were reclaimed in the 1980s with Syncrude’s Gateway Hill earning the first oil sands reclamation certificate in 2008. Massive stone bison statues are located at parking lot and mark the beginning of the trail.
Experience nature first hand as the land and trails are now home an abundance of wildlife. The 4 kilometer interpretative trail offers views of Ruth Lake, marshes, and an ongoing reclamation site of a former mine pit.
Also north of Fort McMurray, is another interpretative trail that covers over 19 hectares of reclaimed land. Crane Lake is an artificial lake that reclaimed itself. That’s right, although this area was slatted for use as a tailings pond, nature took over and the area revegetated on its own. This trail, which opened to the public in 1994, encompasses a bird watching area and you may notice a beaver dame or two in addition to other wildlife who call the Boreal Forest home. Two stone crane statues mark the opening to the trail that leads to the lake.
While you can’t visit an oil sands project, you can take a virtual tour from the comfort of your own home. Through the magic of virtual reality, you can take a tour of a mining and SAG-D site and learn more about oil sands development.