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Fort McMurray trip brings oilsands into perspective

January 2, 2017

The size and scale of Alberta’s oilsands can be surprising, even for professionals in the energy industry.

As part of the Global Energy Executive MBA (GEeMBA), students complete six modules in five leading energy centres around the world, complimented by pre- and post-module online webinars and assignments. The first module brought them to Calgary and Fort McMurray.

Along with time spent in classes at Scurfield Hall, the students spent two days immersed in learning about the oilsands. Thanks to a generous donation from Cenovus, students were flown into Fort McMurray and were hosted at the Christina Lake camp. This gave students the opportunity to have the full “oilsands experience” and appreciate the work that goes in on the front lines.

The cohort visited facilities belonging to both Cenovus and Suncor and learned about the processes and technologies involved in in-situ and mining methods of production, including visits to control rooms to understand the key performance metrics in both production methods. Students also learned about the recent advances into tailing pond reclamation, and the recent advances that have allowed Suncor to fully reclaim the Wapisiw Lookout pond into a watershed area capable of supporting a variety of plants and wildlife.

They also had the opportunity to hear from Kevin Birn, of IHS Energy, who provided the students with a macro prospective of how the oilsands positions Canada in terms of the global energy market. Along with discussions of the global energy economy, students discussed the socio-economic impact of the recent forest fires in the area, and the short- and long-term effects of the fire on the economy.

“The visit to Fort McMurray was a significant eye opener for me particularly as someone experiencing the oilsands operations for the very first time. Seeing both the SAGD and the in-situ operations created a deeper appreciation of the extraction process. A nagging question though was the ecological disturbance particularly from the in-situ operations and the efforts that will be required to restore the area after operations.” says Ken Kiumbe Mugambi, one of the GEeMBA students who visited Fort McMurray.

Having an “up close and personal” view of the oilsands was an excellent complement to the in-class instruction, and gave the students a greater appreciation of the overall scale of the oil sands; both in terms of the landmass and the overall economic impact. As students return from this module to their home countries, they will be able to apply these learnings to both their post-module assignments and their careers in the global energy sector, as they prepare to begin module two in China in February 2017.

The GEeMBA program and students wish to thank Cenovus for their generous donation, as well as Suncor for their tours and Kevin Birn, IHS Energy for speaking to the students.

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