Fossils unearthed at Syncrude’s North Mine

There aren’t many people who can say they have found fossil remains dating back hundreds of millions of years. However, Scott Fisher, a Geotechnical Instrumentation Technician with Neegan Technical Services now can.

On June 7, 2018, Scott discovered fossil remains in Syncrude’s North Mine of a prehistoric marine reptile, which is believed to be a plesiosaur.

Scott was performing his regular duties of checking the high wall of the KCW bench in the North Mine when he made the exciting discovery. The fossils were found in chunks of rock in an inactive overburden area and will be marked in Syncrude’s history among the more than a dozen other significant fossil finds at site.

“I normally walk along the bottom level of the wall, but with the accumulation of rain from previous days, I walked along the top that day instead,” says Scott. “I was looking over the wall and saw what looked like a piece of wood. It looked different from other material so I went over to take a closer look. I was not expecting to see teeth and what looked like eye sockets of a skull, which I found out later were actually jaw bones.”

Scott quickly made some phone calls which led him to connect with Krista Gammon, Mildred Lake Geoscience Team Leader.

“We receive calls and emails from workers about fossil discoveries, but normally they are false finds. With calcite deposits and shells that are also white in color, it makes it hard to distinguish,” says Krista. “However, when I received the picture from Scott, it was clear he discovered fossil remains.”

(Scott Fisher of Neegan Technical Services near where he discovered fossils of a plesiosaur in Syncrude’s North Mine on June 7, 2018.)

Krista contacted the Royal Tyrrell Museum and was connected with Donald “Don” Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs. Don’s team arrived at Syncrude on June 19 to examine the area and transport the fossils to the museum. The fossils were covered in glue, then paper towel and water before being covered with plaster. This technique allows for a close fit of plaster to the fossil without actually touching the bone. In doing so, the fragile bone is protected and rocks can be transported to the museum for more delicate excavation. Smooth pebbles were also recovered at the site which were likely in the plesiosaur’s stomach.

(Don Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs, Royal Tyrrell Museum, examines fossils found at Syncrude while holding an illustration of a plesiosaur.)

“Don’s team examined the fossils and not only identified what type of creature the fossils belonged to, but also described their behaviour and what this landscape used to look like,” says Scott. “They really brought the story to life.”
Fossil discoveries represent a look into the past and also help explain oil sands development in this region. The presence of sea creature fossils support the theory that this area once was a warm inlet sea. Wind currents at the time may have contributed to the unusual concentrations of fossils at Syncrude.

The discovery was made possible by concretions (fragile bone found in well-cemented solid host rock which helped protect the remains over time), location in an inactive mine area, and most importantly, thanks to Scott’s observant eye.

“This discovery has been very exciting for myself and my family,” says Scott. “It has been quite the experience to be part of Syncrude history in this way.”

The first major find at Syncrude was on April 1, 1992 when operator Willie Brevant discovered fossils of an ichthyosaur. A replica fossil is on display at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray.

syncrude on instagram