Syncrude Canada

Syncrude Canada is the world’s largest producer of crude from oil sands.1 Based in Fort McMurray, Alberta, it is a behemoth of Canada’s fossil fuel industry.2 Since its incorporation in 1964, Syncrude’s cumulative production has exceeded three billion barrels.3 At present, its facilities have the capacity to produce almost 375,000 barrels per day.4 

The company directly employs about 4,700 people and indirectly creates thousands of other jobs.5 It is capable of producing over 15 per cent of the country’s total petroleum needs.6 This is particularly impressive, considering Canada is the fourth biggest oil-producing country in the world.7 Syncrude also has expansion plans which will enable it to achieve an output level of 500,000 barrels a day.8 

How does Syncrude produce oil from oil sands?

Syncrude’s oil sands production process typically involves surface mining.9 Huge excavations remove the oil sands and transport it to a cleaning facility.10 As of 2015, about 500 square kilometres of Alberta’s oil sands deposits were undergoing surface mining.11 This is just three per cent of the total, yet the effects are environmentally devastating.12 

First, the area undergoing surface mining must be cleared.13 This includes cutting down trees, draining bogs and removing the underlying soil.14 The boreal forest covering much of the oil sands provides a critical habitat for species declared at risk.15 It supports diverse ecosystems and is vital to the abundance of birdlife across the whole of North America.16 From the first step in the process, Syncrude has a devastating impact on Alberta’s environment.

After digging up the oil sands, Syncrude then moves it to a cleaning facility.17 Here, water from the Athabasca River is used to extract the bitumen from the sand.18 It is a highly water-intensive process.19 For every barrel of bitumen produced, about three barrels of fresh water are taken from the river.20 This water ends up in toxic tailings ponds which now hold more than one trillion litres of toxic waste.21 These ponds can leak and contaminate groundwater, posing a serious risk to local wildlife.22 

Who owns Syncrude Canada?

Syncrude Canada is a joint venture undertaking, partially owned by four different enterprises.23 Suncor Energy Inc. holds the majority share with 58.7 per cent.24 By December 2021, Suncor Energy Inc. will become the project operator, although this move awaits formal approval from the remaining owners.25 Suncor would then take over the daily operations of the Syncrude oil sands mining venture and facilities.26 The move is anticipated to reduce operating costs to just USD $23 per barrel and save Syncrude CAD $300 million per year.27 

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Sources

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