by: Jim Strickland Updated:
The business of extracting oil from the boreal forest of Alberta, Canada, to make fuel means thousands of jobs for Georgia.
"I see a lot of the employees loading containers, knowing it's going to Canada. It's just a phenomenal experience," said Kirk Thomas, of SNF Chemtall in Riceboro.
SNF is a French company with a Georgia chemical plant that is crucial to the Canadian oil sands.
Mining and rinsing the sand means producing not just oil, but giant ponds of toxic materials that cannot dry out on their own. The industry calls them tailings, and they are a lightning rod for environmentalists.
"Those ponds or lakes … contain about 840 million cubic meters of toxic waste," said Jennifer Grant of the watchdog group Pembina Institute.
SNF's business development director, Georgian Scott Ramey, said the industry is addressing the problem.
"They had the problem, and we had one of the solutions to that problem," he said.
Ramey led a team that devised a way to mix in a chemical polymer to rapidly squeeze the water out of the tailings, so they'll harden. Runoff water gets recycled, and the hardened clay is used to build roads and fill in mining areas to be replanted.
SNF makes the chemical and the dispensing system. One was shipped out to Alberta this month.
"I don't think many people know that there is a connection between the oil sands in Canada and Georgia. Until this, I never knew there was a connection either, so I'm really glad there is. That's why I'm employed," said safety manager Susannah Martin.
SNF is looking at tripling the number of plant employees in the next five years.
“So, in a plant, there's 30 people. We're looking at adding 90 to 100 to help with all of this polymer manufacturing," said Thomas.
"It's thousands of jobs in Georgia today, you know, multiple companies producing important products," said Travis Davies of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
According to CAPP, 7,700 jobs in Georgia will eventually be related to the oil sands.
"Oil sands is about a fifth of our business," said Milind Karkare, president of Andrtiz Automation in Decatur.
Before an oil company builds a plant, Andritz draws the whole thing out on a computer. The company then runs simulations looking for problems.
Its latest project is the $10 billion Kearl mine Exxon will open next year.
"But before they invest that money, they actually come to this small Georgia company to simulate what they're going to make there," said Karkare.
His “help wanted” sign is always on display.
"We're not able to hire enough engineers. We just don't make enough of them," he said.