Andrew Bates

electric newspaperman

Syncrude's Bison Hill reclamation project, with the Mildred Lake oilsands upgrader in the background. (Photo Andrew Bates/Today staff)

Oilsands tour an argument for reclamation

Syncrude's Bison Hill reclamation project, with the Mildred Lake oilsands upgrader in the background. (Photo Andrew Bates/Today staff)

Syncrude’s Bison Hill reclamation project, with the Mildred Lake oilsands upgrader in the background. (Photo Andrew Bates/Today staff)

(Fort McMurray Today, August 23, 2014)

It was a strange experience to stand at the lookout point at Bison Hill.

To my left, forested slopes gave way to a plain; home to a herd of wood bison, brought up in 1993 from a park in Edmonton. To the right, a body of water that looks like a lake curved with the highway. A bird glided down to the surface despite the sound cannons, popping like fireworks shots intermittently to keep them from landing on it. In the distance, a factory belched steam from an environmental filtering plant. This is Syncrude’s Mildred Lake oilsands upgrader facility, where bitumen is turned into 350,000 barrels of oil a day.

This was once a scar on the surface of the earth, and now it stands as an imitation of wilderness, built from seeds and plants that have sat in an Edmonton lab since the company took them from here before it became the East Mine. It won’t be the same as it looked then, but it will be equivalent, which is the standard the company is held to by Alberta law.

This is an example of my features work and time covering the oilsands. For more oilsands coverage, check out my coverage of Alberta Energy Regulator hearings into a Teck exploration project, and for more examples of my features writing, try this piece, which earned a 2014 John H. McDonald Features Writing award nomination, about the role of university libraries in a digital age.

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