University of Calgary

Students visit Fort Mac

Shell sends environmental law students to oilsands for tour of mine

By Sally Powis

Students from the Environmental Law Society recently travelled to the Muskeg River Mine.

Students from the Environmental Law Society recently travelled to the Muskeg River Mine.

Experiential learning is all about getting out of the classroom and into the field. For the Environmental Law Society—a group of University of Calgary Faculty of Law students—a recent trip to the oilsands provided a rare, up-close look at a key element of the energy sector.


The trip was made possible by Shell Canada, which last month flew 29 students and one law professor on a chartered flight from the Shell Aerospace Centre in Calgary to the Muskeg River Mine.

“This was a great opportunity for the law students to step away from their screens and see the oilsands development on the ground,” says Alastair Lucas, dean of the Faculty of Law.

The group was given a tour of the mine and visited the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray.

“This field trip helped us develop a sophisticated and informed understanding of what, exactly, the oilsands are and are not, and what they mean for Albertans and our environment,” says Tyler Hargreaves, vice- president of events for the society.

The Environmental Law Society arranged for the group to have two lectures on oilsands issues prior to the field trip, as well as some mandatory reading. They focused on three categories of issues: water usage and tailing ponds; carbon dioxide emissions and capture; and reclamation.

Although the regulatory and legal aspects of these issues are of particular interest to law students, they are also interested in the scientific aspects of the oilsands in order to understand the entire process involved in oil extraction.

The Muskeg River Mine sits on Shell’s Lease 13, which contains more than five billion barrels of mineable bitumen—an amount that’s about twice the conventional oil reserves remaining in Alberta.