syncrude first box cut

On the cutting edge: Syncrude marks 40 years of mining

Jun 27, 2017

When Mervin Loder started at Syncrude in 1986 as a heavy equipment operator, massive draglines and bucketwheels fed miles of conveyor belts loaded with dry oil sand. They snaked their way from the east and west pits of Base Mine to Extraction. The only constant he’s seen in the next 31 years has been change.

“The way technology has changed us is big,” Mervin says. “The people have changed, too. There’s a lot more women working in the mine than when I started.”

One of those women is Mervin’s daughter Amanda Loder, a frontline supervisor who joined Syncrude in 2010 after a stint with a contractor. Growing up in Fort McMurray as the daughter of a miner, Amanda saw following in the deep steel-toed path of her father as a natural choice. “I grew up around it – I still remember Take Your Kid To Work Day and coming out to Syncrude,” Amanda says. “Growing up, I remember asking him a lot of questions because he worked in so many different areas of the mine.”

Mervin and Amanda represent two of the thousands of men and women who’ve worked in Syncrude’s mine since the first cut was made on June 23, 1977 in what would become the east pit of base mine. As Syncrude marks this milestone, Mildred Lake Mine Manager Lorne Shearing sees the contributions of Mervin, Amanda and others as the cornerstone of Syncrude’s success.

oilsands amanada merv loder w source syncrude3

(Mervin and Amanda Loder)

“When Syncrude first started, there were some detractors around who wondered whether we could make a go of it. What’s allowed us to be around for 40 years is the great work of our employees,” says Lorne, who started with Syncrude as a heavy equipment operator in Overburden Operations, a unit that would remove overburden ahead of the dragline and bucketwheel mining oil sands in an area.

“You also need to think about the innovations that have taken place over those four decades,” Lorne says. “We started with the draglines and bucketwheels at Base Mine. We moved to a truck-shovel operation with the North Mine. We developed hydrotransportation. The impact of those innovations have had major impacts on our production and costs, but also how we reclaim the land that we’ve disturbed.”

Mervin’s career at Syncrude has seen his role evolve as new technologies came on line in the mine.

“I started in 1986 as an equipment operator but I also worked on bucketwheels starting in 1992,” says Mervin, who now splits time as a panel operator and an acting tech in the field. “In 1997, I helped commission our hydrotransport system, which was a big change for Syncrude. Later on I worked on commissioning the Mildred Lake Mine Relocation (MLMR) project, which incorporates a lot of new things.”

Watching her father’s career evolve convinced Amanda to join Syncrude and she sees the same sort of readiness to take on challenges with her generation of miners.

“It’s a young group again, so watching everybody grow over the next 40 years doing what my dad and his coworkers did will be exciting. It will be great to watch everybody in the Syncrude family progress together,” says Amanda. “You see what the people can do with the equipment. I’m very excited about what the future holds.”

Not being afraid of new technologies or roles will help the next 40 years be as successful as the last 40, Mervin says.

“If you are willing to try something new, Syncrude is always willing to back you to be successful.”