Wapisiw Lookout Milestone Event
Rick George, President and CEO, Suncor Energy
Wapisiw Lookout, Suncor Plant Site
September 23, 2010
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Hello everyone. I’m Rick George, and let me just say that I am thrilled to be here today. This is a day that many of us have been looking forward to, and I’m extremely pleased to see it come to fruition.
I know that the 12,000 plus employees at Suncor, and particularly those here at our Oil Sands operations, are watching this proudly, and I’m delighted that our guests here and online are able to take part.
It’s an understatement to recognize this as anything less than an historic milestone.
When we started operations over 40 years ago, I don’t think anyone could have envisioned this day. I think, though, that three words, which we’ve featured prominently in our Report on Sustainability apply very well to today’s event. And they are: Energy. Innovation, and Commitment.
When commercial oil sands production began in 1967, Pond 1 was a storage area for oil sand tailings. As production increased, so did the size of the pond. In those days, more attention was being paid to how to effectively and efficiently mine, extract and upgrade the oil sands. But, even back then, Suncor was committed to reclamation. In the late 1960s we successfully reclaimed and replanted the dikes surrounding Pond 1.
The energy it took to move overburden, store it, mine, and return the area to a solid surface boggles the imagination. It pales, though, in comparison to the Energy of our oil sands team. Their relentless focus on returning the land to a natural state is a big part of what we’re celebrating today. We invested a great deal of time and resources to complete the surface reclamation of Wapisiw Lookout and we’re extremely proud of our employees and contractors who worked tirelessly to make this achievement possible.
On behalf of Suncor’s leadership team, I’d like to extend my personal thanks to Kirk and his operations and reclamation team here at oil sands for the fantastic job they’ve done on this site.
Now, in 2010, we have made significant progress in reclaiming to a solid surface what was once a tailings pond – a first for the oil sands industry.
Although our industry is relatively young, we’ve seen a lot of change. The world certainly isn’t the same as it was in 1967. Today, our stakeholders are holding us to much higher standards and we’ve become much more aware of the environmental footprint of our operations.
Fortunately, we’ve learned a lot along the way. Our continual focus on technology and doing things better has brought improvements in the way we operate and how we perform environmentally.
It’s this Innovation that I’m convinced makes the future bright for oil sands. Steve Williams will talk more later about what lies ahead for tailings in terms of new technology, but I can say that thanks to a culture of continuous improvement, and yes, learning from some mistakes, we’ve made great progress. And, we are well-positioned to make substantial improvements in the way we manage tailings.
If today represents anything, it’s Commitment. We said we would be the first oil sands company in the world to complete surface reclamation of a tailings pond. We said we would get the job done in 2010. And we have delivered. If there’s anything we’ve learned in working with stakeholders and neighbours, it’s that actions speak louder than words. We get that – loud and clear.
And that means things like planting 630,000 shrubs and trees over the remainder of the year. Once surface reclamation is complete, this 220-hectare area will be transformed into mixed wood forest and small wetland capable of supporting a variety of plants and wildlife. And then, over the next two decades, we will closely monitor progress on the site.
We’ve renamed Pond 1 to recognize this significant achievement. The new name - Wapisiw Lookout, – is intended to reflect the transformation of the site. Wapisiw means ‘swan’ in the Cree language and is also close to Wapasun, the name of the first person to bring a sample of oil sand to a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost in 1719.
As you can see, it’s a fitting name to recognize the surface reclamation of our first tailings pond and I want to thank Carla Baker—an Oil Sands employee and long-time Fort McMurray resident—for suggesting this as our new name for Pond 1.
We know that our efforts have been watched with interest by the Government of Alberta. They, like us, are keenly aware of the public expectations that come in terms of the environment, and I know are pushing industry to better their performance even more.
We are pleased to have the Honourable Ed Stelmach, Premier of the Province of Alberta here today, and I’d now like to welcome him to the podium to say a few words.