Construction on the Horizon Oil Sands Project — about 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, Alta. — began in 2004.

The site covers more than 46,500 hectares. It consists of an open-pit mining operation and an on-site bitumen upgrader, which processes the black, tarry bitumen into a sweet synthetic crude oil.

The first barrel of oil came out of the plant on Feb. 28, 2009. By the end of 2010, the plant was producing around 87,500 barrels a day. The project is owned by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL).

Besides a fire that broke out on Jan. 6, 2011, injuring five workers, there have been several incidents at the plant, including:

  • The deaths of two Chinese temporary workers in a roofing collapse during construction of the plant in 2007. CNRL and two other companies are facing charges in connection to that incident.
  • The drowning of a backhoe operator while clearing debris from a tailings pond shoreline in September 2008 after his machine slipped into the water. CNRL and another company were charged after an investigation by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety.

After the drowning, company spokesman Peter Janson said statistics show the Horizon site is safe.

Other oil sands projects

There are 14 major oil sands projects and another 39 planned or under construction in Wood Buffalo, Alta., a region that includes Conklin and Fort McMurray.

Other projects in the region include the following:

Aurora & Mildred Lake (Syncrude Canada) 

  • These oil sands projects, which opened in 2000, produce about 350,000 barrels of oil daily.
  • By 2020, their total yield is expected to increase to 525,000 barrels.
  • Syncrude's lease holdings span 101,960 hectares in the area.
  • In 2008, about 40 per cent of the Syncrude's synthetic crude oil was sold to Edmonton area refineries, and the remaining 60 per cent was sold to refineries in eastern Canada and the mid-western United States.  

Source: Canadian Oil Sands Trust 

Voyageur and Firebag (Suncor)

Voyageur is a mining operation expected to produce 120,000 barrels per day over 40 years.

Firebag is a multiphase project where bitumen is extracted underground, rather than by open-pit mining; it began producing oil in 2004.

Shell Albian

Shell Albian Sands is able to produce 155,000 barrels per day.

Sunrise (Husky)

This site, 60 kilometres northeast of Fort McMurray, holds reserves of 3.7 billion barrels.

Projects under construction include:

  • Athabasca Oil Sands Project/Albian Sands Energy (Jackpine Mine)
  • Imperial Oil / ExxonMobil (Kearl Lake Project)
  • Cenovus Energy (Christina Lake Phase 1C)
  • ConocoPhillips (Surmont)
  • Devon Energy (Jackfish 2)
  • Laricina Energy (Saleski)
  • Statoil ASA (Kai Kos Deh Leismer Demonstration)
  • Suncor Energy (Firebag, Stage 3 and 4)