It’s been just over 20 years since Syncrude retired one of its giant machines.
The ‘Discovery’ dragline was officially put out of commission on July 8, 1999, marking the start of oil companies looking at using trucks and shovels for their mining operations.
The machine was run by a team of three; one who graded the path for the behemoth, an oiler who made sure everything was functioning, and one who operated it.
Former Operator Lorne Wyatt tells Mix News he still remembers just how daunting ‘Discovery’ was.
“Anyone who sits in the seat for the first time and then you release the breaks and realize that you are now in total control of this really big machine, it takes a little bit of getting used to.”
The machine was 180 feet tall which was about the size of a 25-story building.
Wyatt used to climb the mast nearly every day. He says it took some time before it became second nature for him.
“Just the size of the machine and the amount of real estate that it took to operate, that’s what shocked most people when they got up close to it.”
The three-man group was taught how to do each job – this means Wyatt got to operate the 180 feet machine, which could take a giant step every 40 seconds.
“Part of everyone’s duties was to relieve people during break time and such, so you kind of got to know each position on the dragline by being there.”
Shift to Truck and Shovel
Ever since draglines were retired Syncrude, and other oil companies, have been using trucks and shovels.
This change has allowed companies to create smaller mines which in the end saves them time and money.
Before, the dragline would need a giant area to move around, which would take a much longer process to prepare.
Vice President, Production – Extraction & Mining Greg Fuhr says this helps them move along much quicker.
“Once you’ve mined a smaller area you’re able to start the reclamation process much quicker because you are working in these smaller defined areas.”
Fuhr adds this method allows the company to be more selective as the oilsands consist of different grades of substances.
Moving forward, it’s likely we’ll continue to see innovations in mining operations.
“We’re always looking at new technologies on how to improve the development of speeding up the reclamation as well as improving the recovery, so I think you’re going to see over time constant change.”
You can see a former dragline by visiting the ‘Giants of Mining’ exhibit just south of Syncrude’s operations.