Mayor tours Fort McMurray

Mayor Bill Holmberg toured the Alberta Oil Sands last week and said it was an eye opener.

Hoodies sold at Alberta airport

Hoodies sold at Alberta airport

Mayor Bill Holmberg toured the Alberta Oil Sands last week, Aug. 14 to 16.

Organized and funded by Northern Gateway, the oil sands tour invited representatives from communities  along the proposed pipeline corridor from Alberta to B.C.

The company decided such a tour was in order after facing a number of questions about the origin of the crude oil it hopes to pump for customers of its planned Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to a marine terminal at Kitimat, said company official Ivan Giesbrecht.

He says Enbridge has been hosting tours of several locations considered key in its efforts to seek approval for its Northern Gateway pipeline.

Mayor Bill Holmberg says 28 people took the tour, including Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold and a real cross section of others – from engineers, to First Nations, to mayors, to friends of the river and a few from Telkwa and Topley.

“The group includes civic leaders and business people.

“The group has been quite impressed at the size and scope of the operation here,” said Giesbrecht.

They toured the facilities of Suncor Energy Inc., a client of Enbridge, and saw the Enbridge facilities, which was basically a bunch of holding containers, said Mayor Bill Holmberg.

“For me it was an eye opener,” he said, adding that he’s never been to the oil sands before.

“Basically they wanted to enlighten us on what Enbridge is doing, what the sands look like as far as meeting the environmental guidelines and what they’re doing to be as green as they can be.

“I think it’s something that Canadians can take pride in.

“They’re doing a great job up there, they have lots of environmental issues but they are working through them,” Holmberg said.

He says they even went to a reclaimed tailings pond that was probably 300 hectares or more, and it had wildlife, grasses growing in it, and coyotes hanging around.

“It looked like northern Alberta,” Holmberg said.

He adds that the oil sands procedure is “pretty messy and pretty dirty.”

Holmberg says they got to see another system where they drill down and inject steam into the earth, and it thins out the oil which runs into a parallel pipe below.

He says the system is less invasive than the typical method, but fairly labour intensive and cost prohibitive in some areas, and production is much less.

“I think they’re under some huge pressure to get better environmentally,” said Holmberg.

He says that the pipelines in Alberta are full, and they have no more capacity to move oil, no where else to move it.

“They’re struggling in the oil sands right now,” he said.

Holmberg says they also saw a 2,800-man camp (now called a lodge), similar to the 2,400-man lodge planned for Kitimat.

“The infrastructure and the logistics of what they do up there is mind boggling,” said Holmberg, adding that their camp would probably hold it’s own with medium sized hotels in Vancouver.

He says that even though Enbridge organized the tour, it felt like a Suncor tour, and they didn’t have much discussion about the proposed pipeline.

“It really didn’t enlighten me much as far as what Enbridge’s whole package is going to look like up this way,” he said.

“It certainly showed me that the oil sands seems to be on the right track, but they’ve got a ways to go.

“They’re under huge scrutiny out there,” he said.