Trig point, Brecon Beacons, Wales
Trig point, Brecon Beacons, Wales
  • Tar Sands Pilgrimage
    • 03/10/2011
train of pipesSuncor Oil Sandsrefining at sunsetdrag bucket at tar sands
So Edmonton is famous for one thing, oil. It's so close to the tar sands that it seems rude not to check them out.
However, i don't know what i was expecting, maybe to stand next to a giant pipeline or feel viscous sand crumble in my fingers. None of that.
A lonely 300 mile drive, relatively light traffic considering this is the main supply line to a community of tens of thousands.
A mix of big artic trucks with two trailers, (tankers, logs, pipes, soil), oversize loads (huge trailers with giant oil well components, dumptrucks etc, with escorts)
and locals/ oil workers in big pick up trucks or muscle cars. They get paid enough, people keep quoting me 100k minimum.
I got to Fort Mcmurray at 4.10pm - the visitor centre shuts at 4pm, so i drove up further north to see what i could see....
And thats where the place reveals its crazy nature. Fort Mcmurray is a settlement for ONE thing. The tar sands. Which are accessible by one road.
This road is mental, bumper to bumper traffic, buses shuttling workers to and fro, tankers and more pick up trucks than you can imagine. The contrast after 300 miles of nothing is shattering!

so i turn off at Suncor Tarsands! Big security checkpoint. oh.
can see the workers living camps though, which are many portacabins bolted together, arranged in a way which looks very much like a prisoner of war camp.
the nice security girl tells me if i keep going north i'll be able to see some stuff from the road at Syracrude.
Indeed, the 63 highway loops all round a big expanse of sands / lake. There is some big equipment laying around, and some refinery-like towers and stuff. Can't see anything actually happening though.
Everything operational seems to be over the horizon, behind trees, behind NO UNAUTHORISED ADMITTANCE and security gates
It smells of tar though! like laying a new road. And there are frequent booming/cracking bangs like small explosions in the distance.
I stop to take some photos at a viewpoint / bison sancturary set up by the oil company. can't see any bison.
i keep going north, towards fort mckay, hlf looking for a track into the wilderness to camp -
there are very few turn offs though, i feel a bit lost, take one and it comes to another dead end for me at the entrance to Shell's tarsands project. Again, piles of sand obstruct the view of anything interesting.
So i head back to mcmurray to get some internet and get my bearings. Find a turn off on the way down the side of lake Milford, which is a reclaimed lake? ie ex mine? or am i making that up. Anyway, great pictures in the sunset.
but the track isn't too kind on the rental car and its getting dark, so i join the crazy traffic descending on mcmurray.

so i havent seen anything really but have got an impression of the scale of operations. 300 miles of nothing and then this crazy place, it must be like a gold rush town of the olden days.

warning gas pipelinewild bearlogging truckbeaver

spaghetti bless mall food courts free wifi. head south ten miles to lake gregoire campground.
it seems deserted at first, but there are actually a load of giant RV trailers with people there. i retreat to a more empty part of the campsite. Its in fairly thick woods but can see the sky, which is nice and starry. But the weather forecast proves accurate and clouds obscure all by midnight.
lots of bear warning signs as usual. i'm warm in the car and new sleeping bag.
watch a bit of the film "gashole" which is in channel 5 documentary fashion of stringing stuff out.
It alleges that in the 1950's a couple of different guys invented modifications to car engines which could produce over 100mpg on big heavy cars. Some sort of fuel vapourisor, and a humidified carberretor.
However Shell bought the patents and quashed them. intruiging, but would VW still be boasting about getting 70mpg from a golf greenmotion if this was really possible? who knows.
Then more believable stuff about price fixing and record profits, with the chairmen refusing to explain in congress. because they paid for the government.
Its a fact that the whole economy, the whole country, stops without fuel for transport, and technically a free market, it transcends the power and control of government. Unless they got some balls and passed some laws.
anyway the style of the film annoys me so i watch how i met your mother instead.

Its pretty chilly outside in the morning, but the low sun flickers through the yellowing leaves nicely.

I'd like to swim in the lake, but when i get down there the water is freezing, i mean icy. that waterfall was cold, but this is just silly so i give it a miss, the air temp is cold enough as it is.
back to the visitor centre to see if they know anywhere i can ACTUALLY SEE SOME TAR SAND

factual stuff about the production of synthetic oil from raw sand
obviously with a positive wording of "isn;t this a great achievement". Not to say that it isn't, but
Met a guy up here due to the forest fires (helicopter mechanic), who thought the whole are was nuts. He'd flown over the tar sands and seen just how big and desolate they are.
small environmental bit mentioned only the intentions to return lands to nature, rather than the damaging impacts.

big machines yay!!! let the schoolboy in me out

omg the gift shop. disgusting.

so still using that sanatising alcohol hand gel from the empire state building, i guess it was worth filling in that annoying questionaire after all

still can't find any actual sand with tar in it.

leaves falling like snowflakes...

wild bear number 2!!!

lac le biche (translation?)
stop at the tourist info at 6.30pm to use the washrooms - its being used as a polling station for the alberta premier election
i explain i'm registered to vote 4000 miles away - the lady's (palmer) mother was from nottingham!
pretty vote counting girl is from "hairy hill", older guy explains its because the buffalo used to rub their hair off there. allegedly
the lady says she likes the lakes but believes the oil production is necessary as the economy depends on it, and we all use the oil so how can we complain! advocate of the new pressurised steam horizontal drilling though
beaver! runs away at first but i got him

ok, so i'm back in edmonton, 15km from the rental place, the fuel warning light is on.
gamble? it came on 15km ago, i figure it must come on with a gallon left at least, so thats 30 miles.
or look another way, 1 bar of the guage left - the gauge is split into 8 bits, and i've done 600km off the other 7, or 80km per bar.
so there should be plenty. running out of petrol is such a bad experience though! i'll leave at 5 to allow for running to find a 24 hour garage and petrol can

got back to the rental place, yay.
left there half 6
can't find the bus stop. dilly dally
get on the next bus that comes, it drops me close enough at 7.15, the train is scheduled to leave 7.37
not 7.27 as i thought, so running the 500m that i ran was not necessary. the train is another 500m long like
now i stink of BO, running with two rucksacks and a bag of food is not easy.
the train isn;t even boarding yet, some issue.

so

last 48 hours
12491-11263=1228km = 763 miles
10 local radio stations
7 cheese sandwiches
3 energy drinks
2 beavers
1 bear


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