Terri-Jane Yuzda

From the Branches

The Branch of the Oilsands
Disciplines Converge in Fort McMurray Region

Fort McMurray Branch Chair

The oilsands industry and Fort McMurray are exciting places to be. Here's some information to demonstrate the point.

Extracting bitumen from sand and converting it to a useable product is a complicated process, one that requires a wide range of skills and a high level of cooperation. Did you know, for example, that strategic decisions made in the mine can affect the geotechnical design of a tailings pond in a wholly different area of an oilsands operation? The geological characteristics of oilsand sent to the processing unit have an almost immediate impact on the ability to construct stable tailings structures at the opposite end of the operation.

Within our professions alone, almost all of the disciplines play a role in oilsands development. Rarely is such a range of expertise required in one operation, contributing to the creation of one product.


"The extraction processes may seem simple enough -- mix oils and with water and chemicals, use gravity to allow the oil to rise and the solids to settle. However, results are governed by complex surface chemistry"


Oilsands production is unique in that mining and mineral processing are combined with petroleum refining. And that poses a challenge. Traditional mining theory was not developed with the steady-state needs of a refinery as the end-user. In other words, the things school teaches cannot be applied directly at work without consideration being given to the nuances of the entire process, from mine design to the transfer of product to the pipeline.

The extraction processes used in the Fort McMurray area are unique to the oilsands. They may seem simple enough -- mix oilsand with water and chemicals, use gravity to allow the oil to rise and the solids to settle. However, results are governed by complex surface chemistry.

The recovery of the bitumen is a function of many things, some still unknown. It's been established that adequate mixing of the slurry, particle size distribution, and the charges on the particles in the slurry play key roles in recovery. Yet these same factors affect the ability to create tailings structures.

When we work in isolation, it is unlikely we can achieve the best overall efficiency. The lowest cost mine plan may not create the highest recovery or stable tailings structures. When geologists, mining engineers, process engineers and geotechnical specialists sit together and compare their information, the cause and effect of geology on the downstream process is obvious.

The success of the oilsands industry lies in strong technical specialization with an appreciation for the process upstream and downstream. It is the difference between reacting to events as they happen and creating a process that can be predicted, controlled and optimized at all stages.

From a career perspective, the oilsands offer many opportunities and challenges, especially for our professions. There are few boundaries. Because the success of this work depends on the expertise of specialists and a general understanding of the overall operation, all combinations of knowledge are encouraged.
Many engineers and geoscientists do not spend their careers in the field of their degree. And every project provides opportunities to learn about a new field or a new process: queuing trucks, optimizing reactor performance, improving wear material, designing seals, studying smetitic clays, measuring tailings dyke stability, full scale plant performance testing, safety and so much more.

Golf Tourney Soon

Another good reason to be in Fort McMurray is the activity of your branch. Now that summer vacations are over, it's a good time to let you know what is coming up next.

Top off the summer at our golf tournament on Sept. 20. We are also planning a professional development day for this fall. Look for us during Science and Technology Week. If you like fine wine, take note. We will again hold our wine tasting/wine and cheese social.

If you live in For McMurray but have a permanent address elsewhere, you may not be receiving our event notices directly from APEGGA. If you want to know more about our events, please contact any member of our branch executive listed in the branches section of the APEGGA website, www.apegga.org.

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