The Mildred Lake Extension project (MLX) will sustain Syncrude’s current production levels by extending the life of our North Mine. It received regulatory approval in 2019 and is expected to be operational by the mid-2020s.
The regulatory process for the project took nearly seven years and required countless contributions from employees across our entire company. They put their time and expertise into preparing the project scope, design and application to ensure it will minimize environmental impacts and maximize benefits to the local, provincial and Canadian economies.
MLX at a glance
- Regulatory approval received in 2019
- Project expected to come on line in the mid-2020s
- Impact Benefit Agreements signed with four First Nations and two Métis local communities
- Disturbance offset in place through creation of Birch River Wildland Park
- The Economic Impact Assessment predicted positive effects for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Production and employment
The project consists of two mine sites – MLX West, located northwest of the current North Mine and west of the MacKay River; and MLX East, located on the east side of the Mildred Lake Settling Basin. It will provide a replacement supply of bitumen for upgrading when the current North Mine approaches the end of its oil sands deposit. It is designed to allow Syncrude to sustain its current production capacity. Maintaining production capacity will allow the company to sustain its workforce and economic activity. It will employ people during construction and will provide a positive economic impact to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the province and the country as a whole.
Knowing that the company was embarking on this important project, Syncrude publicly disclosed its intention to file an application a full two years in advance. This was done in response to feedback from local Indigenous communities who indicated they wanted to be engaged in the process as early as possible and to have the opportunity to understand the project before the application was filed.
Syncrude provided opportunities for local Indigenous communities to provide input into the draft terms of reference for the environmental assessment. The company also sought proposals to carry out Traditional Land Use studies prior to Syncrude submitting the application.
Once the Alberta government approved Syncrude’s consultation plan in January 2013, the company launched a broad-ranging consultation with local Indigenous communities and other affected stakeholders. Because of those efforts, the company reached agreements with four First Nations and two Metis Locals.
Minimizing environmental impacts
Syncrude was granted a conservation offset for the project due to our contribution to the creation of the Birch River Wildland Provincial Park. This new park connects Wood Buffalo National Park with Birch Mountain Provincial Park. The initiative also resulted in the creation and expansion of several new and existing provincial parks. All of these parks together form the largest protected boreal forest area in the world, an area of more than 67,000 square kilometres or about twice the size of Vancouver Island.
The MLX project was designed to minimize operational impacts on the environment and wildlife. A 100-metre setback from the top of the escarpment will be maintained along both the MacKay and Athabasca rivers, with available corridor and riparian areas between 600 metres to 2.5 kilometres wide. The primary infrastructure construction is a bridge across the MacKay River to allow heavy haulers to move oil sand to Syncrude’s existing facilities. The bridge design mitigates impacts on fisheries and is designed to ensure the safe movement of wildlife along the river valley.
MLX will use existing Extraction and Upgrading facilities so no new infrastructure or tailings ponds will be required. The project will not increase emissions or fresh water import from the Athabasca River, and disturbed land will be progressively reclaimed as it is available.