Cashing in on Canada’s tar sands: refineries and other industries

Which companies profit from refining and working with tar sands products? Suncor, Imperial and Shell – plus a range of other businesses. Part three in our series exploring who has high stakes in the oil sands.

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Major U.S. refineries fed by the tar sands are operated by international oil giants, such as ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Marathon Petroleum.

Within refinery operations, jobs range from engineering, maintenance and trades to safety and even food service. Most of the major refineries in Canada employ between 400 and 1,000 employees.

Other industries

Apart from the refineries, there are several other industries that are connected in some way to mining in the tar sands. Many – but not all – of these businesses operate in Alberta, alongside extraction operations.

For instance, water treatment systems are essential in the Fort McMurray region, to protect communities and wildlife from harmful toxins associated with mining, and to provide tar sands workers with potable water. As a result, companies specializing in this type of process can score lucrative contracts with oil sands developers.

One example is H20 Innovation Inc., a Quebec-based company awarded a $9.4 million contract with a project operated by Suncor Energy. The company was hired to build, install and commission a water treatment package specifically to provide water for workers on the project. Multiply that single contract by the number of projects operating in the tar sands, and you’ve got a lot of potential for business.

There are also a variety of major construction projects that revolve around tar sands production, including roads to allow transportation within extraction areas, and even housing for the influx of temporary workers who come to Fort McMurray.

Of the vast amount of workers employed indirectly in tar sands operations, some are geologists, environmental and safety consultants, machinery maintenance workers and market traders. And don’t forget the damage control – potential oil sands hazards require specialized workers in areas like firefighting and spill cleanup.

The Alberta government has published a step-by-step guide to the industrial process around the oil sands, which provides a bit of an outline to understanding what types of direct and indirect businesses are involved.

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the oil sands industry provides work for over 239,000 people in Alberta alone. If you include all the other related machinery, goods and services needed for production in Alberta – a good deal of which is manufactured in Eastern Canada – the CAPP says the oil sands also affect the livelihoods of 112,000 workers across the country. If the industry grows as planned (including disputed pipeline proposals and expansions), they claim it will provide another 500,000 jobs over the next 25 years. 

To read part one of this series and find out who’s who in tar sands extraction, click here.

For part two, focusing on pipelines and oil transport systems, click here.

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