Gallery: Shell Canada Ltd.’s Albian Sands project

A visual tour of a northern mining operation

November 01, 2012

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Shell Canada Ltd. is keeping pace with expansion plans of other oil sands mine operators by adding 85,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil capacity to its Albian Sands project. The subsidiary of international oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has also applied for regulatory approval of a further expansion of 100,000 bpd.

Albian Sands consists of two mining operations that currently produce 255,000 bpd. Shell put its stake down in the oil sands in 1999, and first oil was produced from its Muskeg River Mine in 2002. Five years later, the Albian Aerodrome and Albian Village were opened adjacent to the mine site, 75 kilometers north of Fort McMurray, to support expansion of this operation. First oil was produced from the nearby Jackpine Mine in 2010.

The bitumen is upgraded at Shell’s Scotford facility near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. The oil sands upgrader could have the capacity to process 400,000 bpd if a series of expansions are conducted, the company says.

Shell owns 60 per cent of the Athabasca Oil Sands project, which includes the two mines, the Scotford upgrader and the Quest carbon capture and storage project. Chevron Canada Ltd. and Marathon Oil Canada Corp. each have a 20 per cent stake in the project.

The ownership structure insulates Shell against commodity price swings and allows the company to spread investment throughout its integrated business, says Stephanie Sterling, vice-president of business and joint venture management with Shell Canada.

“These are risky ventures,” she says. “These are large operations and large construction projects; and the crude prices we have today might not be the crude prices we have in five years when we start producing oil, so it’s about being able to spread some of that business risk.”


Photograph Bryce Meyer

Photograph Bryce Meyer

Photograph Bryce Meyer

The conveyor belt that carries bitumen and ore from the Jackpine Mine pit to the processing facilities at the top of the hill is nearly one kilometer long.
Photograph Bryce Meyer

The 797B is the largest dump truck in the world. Shell has 60 in its fleet and each one carries 350 metric tonnes per load. A new 797 costs about $7 million and is powered by two, V12 engines that combined produce 3,600 horsepower. The trucks run for 18 hours on a 1,800-gallon fuel tank and arrive in the shop for regular maintenance every 500 hours.
Photograph Bryce Meyer

Photograph Bryce Meyer

A team of 89 heavy-duty technicians at the Jackpine Mine shop oversee about 1,100 pieces of equipment. There are two parts warehouses on site, so mechanics can keep machines operating 24 hours a day, even when it’s -60°C outside
Photograph Bryce Meyer

Carrie Simms taught braille for several years before going to Keyano College to learn how to drive a heavy-duty truck. Slightly taller than five-feet, she was only the fourth woman to work for Shell as a heavy equipment operator. Simms joined the company six years ago and has worked her way up to shifts on the 797 dump trucks. She says the tires, which cost about $70,000 each, turn on a dime.
Photograph Bryce Meyer

The crusher at the edge of Jackpine Mine breaks down an average of 10,500 tonnes of ore per hour.
Photograph Bryce Meyer

The broken down chunks are dropped into a storage silo before heading to large drums where warm water is added.
Photograph Bryce Meyer

A mechanical falcon with motion sensors is part of Shell’s bird deterrent system at the Muskeg River Mine tailings pond.
Photograph Bryce Meyer

The path to Albian Village leads to a hotel-like complex where 2,200 Shell employees and 1,000 contractors live while working on the Albian Sands project.
Photograph Bryce Meyer

Photograph Bryce Meyer
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