National Geographic : 1968 Jul
the oil sands. The shovel's crew lives in Fort McMurray, a onetime Indian settlement that is exploding into a handsome, modern city in northern Alberta. No one knows its potential; it may become the metropolis of the entire North. The construction of Great Canadian Oil Sands' spanking new processing plant (preceding page), $250,000,000 worth of it, is already flooding the town with new families, and this mammoth enterprise may soon be overshadowed by others. The black, sticky tar sands lie in sedimen tary beds up to 200 feet thick, spread across an incredible 30,000 square miles. They con tain an estimated 600 billion barrels of oil -twice the known oil reserves of all the rest of the non-Communist world. I watched bulldozers clearing Great Cana- dian's little patch of six square miles of the oil-rich sands. Vice President Albert E. Moss gestured airily and told me that this patch alone will produce 45,000 barrels of oil a day for 30 years. "This is only the beginning," he said hap pily, as we watched the sand go from the bucket-wheel excavator to the plant on a giant conveyor belt. The tar sands, in consist ency a bit like coffee grounds mixed with mo lasses, yield up their crude oil only after a separation process using hot water, steam, and 900° F. heat. Large amounts of solid coke are also extracted in the last stage. Though railroads have now sent a few stubby steel fingers poking into the North, you must take wings to see this awakening land. The North is the domain of the airplane.