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It’s not a typical tourist trap at first glance, but Alberta’s oil sands have caught everyone from a comedian with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to plenty of politicians, interested investors, and even Hollywood director James Cameron.
Welcome to the weird world of oil sands tourism, where curious, and sometimes famous, visitors explore for themselves what they hear and read about in brief snippets in the news. While only a select few are likely to kibitz with an oil company’s CEO, as The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac recently did with Cenovus Energy vice-president Drew Ziegelgansberger, the growing industry niche does allow for the average tourist to see Alberta’s bitumen belt firsthand.
Flights over the oil sands don’t come cheap: it’s $1,200 per aircraft per hour, and tours can be booked for one to two hours. That cost doesn’t seem to be stopping visitors, though, and cheaper ways to see the oil sands sites also exist.
“People are curious to see our region and the oil sands operations for themselves,” says Denise Barrow of the Fort McMurray Tourism office. While private firms now shuttle guests around the oil sands, Fort McMurray Tourism has been offering visitors a glimpse into the industry for the past 20 years. For about four hours and $40, visitors can tour a Suncor Energy site and go to the Oil Sands Discovery Centre, which guides visitors through the history, science and technology of the oil industry.
From the sky, the scope of that science project comes into view. Wood Buffalo Helicopters is one firm that offers helicopter tours of the region. The Fort McMurray-based operator takes tourists on about 70 helicopter tours of the oil sands a year, making up just two per cent of overall business.
For visitors, the cost of a tour becomes almost incidental after takeoff. “People are amazed at the scale and almost everybody’s convinced that they wouldn’t have been able to understand it without the helicopter tour,” Morin says. “I call the tour Oil Sands 101. People come back really appreciating the size of it and the 300-year nature of the resource. It’s a lot different than seeing 20 seconds on the evening news.”
Reposted from Unlimited Magazine: Read the entire article here.
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