Posts

SAGD steam generators at Christina Lake, Alberta

Collecting the Science, Technologies, and Culture of the Oil Sands

Our guide points to a pink portable toilet, as I make a mental list of technologies that I want to acquire to document everyday life at a Fly-in Fly-out oil sands camp in Northern Alberta. She tells me that the toilet is a symbol of the changing workforce. Now almost 40% of workers at the site are women; they occupy administrative as well as technical positions. This is an important story that shows the transformation of Canadian society that we are mandated to document in the national collection. Yet only 12 % of our natural resources artifacts depict women’s professional lives. Looking at the collection, you would think that 88% of women in Canada still stay at home.

 

Christina Lake in-situ operation. Photo: Cenovus

Christina Lake, Alberta in-situ operation. Photo: Cenovus

I am visiting in-situ oil sands operations with Jason Armstrong, Coordinator of the Canadian Energy Literacy Network. It is an opportunity for us to see and better understand these sites. It is also an opportunity to connect with people in the field, talk about their and our work, and lobby for artifacts. We have a small, but significant collection of petroleum-related objects: prospecting and exploration technologies, drills and drill bits, artifacts from Petrolia, and the Ocean Ranger forensic collection. My focus during this trip is on collecting SAGD (Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage), CSS (Cyclic Steam Stimulation), directional drilling, and hydraulic fracturing technologies.

SAGD steam generators at Christina Lake, Alberta

SAGD steam generators at Christina Lake, Alberta

I also want to provide some social context to these technologies, including gender representation. Who are the people improving, running, and monitoring these technologies? What is their education? What are their values? How do they deal with the constant criticism directed at their industry?

CSS wells at Cold Lake, Alberta

CSS wells at Cold Lake, Alberta

 

I talk to scientists at Imperial Oil, some of the best–and the most humbled–in their field, about decreasing the environmental impacts of the CSS and SAGD. This is definitely on their minds. We talk about challenges around proprietary research and scientific cooperation in a very competitive industry. It is difficult to “collect” what they do, but we try to make a list together: smaller test instruments and crucial parts of larger equipment, the first SAGD test devise, which sits in the corner of the lab (sorry, no photos in the lab), and well monitoring software and communication equipment.

Directional drill bent at 2 degrees to create a horizontal well

Directional drill bent at 2 degrees to create a horizontal well

Precision seamed slotted liner for horizontal  wells. Oil seeps into the pipe, while sand is too large to go through the slots

Precision seamed slotted liner for horizontal wells. Oil seeps into the pipe, while sand is too large to go through the slots

Collecting from a Fly-in Fly-out camp is equally challenging. The camp works as a technological and social system. A piece of technology that we can accession to the collection will never truly preserve this system. The camp employs several hundred people from cleaners and cooks to power engineers. A typical shift is eight to twelve hours, and the people that we talk to, stay at the camp for between seven to eighteen days at a time. There is a gym, a squash court, a music room, a theatre to socialize after work, and there is apparently lots of dating going on too. Any acquisition from a Fly-in Fly out camp will have to include objects related to work but also leisure. We need SAGD and CSS technologies, but we also need a treadmill, and a drum set. And we definitely need one of the pink, portable toilets.

Kitchen at Christina Lake, AB camp open 24-hours

Kitchen at Christina Lake, Alberta camp open 24-hours

 

This is the kit ! Donated to the Museum by Parks Canada in March 2013.
Photo: CSTMC/T.Alfoldi

In Search of George Klein’s Snow Study Kit

My research on the history of avalanche studies in Canada started in December 2012 when I made several enquiries as to the possible location of a snow study kit developed by George Klein.

Klein Snow Study Kit, 1947-2013
Manufacturer: National Research Council Canada, Division of Building Research, Source: Parks Canada, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks
Location: Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada, B.C.
Artifact no.: 2013.0059.001-.010

A pioneer of the Alouette satellite program, Klein is regarded as one of Canada’s most prolific inventors. He developed the box kit pictured below as well as published Method of Measuring the Significant Characteristics of a Snow-Cover (NRC, MM-192) in the mid 1940’s. But where was the kit? How do I set out looking for it? Would I get lucky enough to find it?

View a 1958 video of the Klein snow kit in use in Rogers Pass, B.C.

photo box only

The complete set of instruments.
Weighing 16 lbs, the set included snow sample cutters, a beam balance, two snow hardness gauges, ruler, cup, magnifying glass, spatula, and thermometers.
Photo: Reproduced with the permission of the National Research Council Canada

Fuelled by curiosity, and knowing of the possible links to avalanche research in Canada, enquiries and connections were made. I had several discussions with Richard Bourgeois-Doyle of the NRC in Ottawa, also George Klein’s biographer, and people from the Centre d’avalanche de la Haute-Gaspésie in Québec, the Canadian Avalanche Association in Revelstoke, Parks Canada, and with the ASARC program at the University of Calgary.

Perseverance paid off! It was in January 2013, with the invaluable help of Dr. John Woods, a retired Parks Canada naturalist, and an enthusiastic Phd student from the Applied Snow and Avalanche Research (ASARC) program at the University of Calgary. They located a snow study kit. This one contained some of Klein’s original instruments, which meant it had been in use for over sixty years. The well weathered instruments stood the test of time, and were still in use at the Mount Fidelity research station in Glacier National Park of Canada, B.C.

With a gracious invitation by Jacolyn Daniluck, a Parcs Canada Communications Officer, I travelled to Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada in March 2013 (on this and other related business). It was there I met Jeff Goodrich, an expert in avalanche operations, who would donate a second kit to the Museum. This one, not in use since 2005 had four of Klein’s original instruments: a 500 gram beam balance stamped NRC/DBR, a snow sampling tool, bowl, and a snow density gauge.

 

Donated to the Museum by Parks Canada in March 2013. Photo: CSTMC/T.Alfoldi

The three instruments pictured, part of one of Klein’s original snow science kits, were donated by Parks Canada in March 2013. Used in the 1950’s by Noel Gardner and NRC avalanche pioneer Peter Schaerer during the construction of the Trans-Canada highway through Rogers Pass, the instruments became part of this red kit and used thereafter by Parks Canada in snow research and avalanche control until very recently.

These instruments, developed by Klein for the classification of snow-ground covers were originally intended to advance his research in the development of snow landing gear for aircraft. His research however would also eventually contribute to the foundation of an international standard for snow classification as well as to avalanche studies during the planning and construction of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Snow Study Plot, Mount Fidelity, Parks Canada, 1965, Glacier National Parc, B.C.
Fred Schleiss is holding a snow crystal identification card and looking at the crystal type. Seen hooked on the handle of the shovel, the Klein beam balance and small bucket are some of the basic instruments used to determine snow density of various layers within this snow pit.
Photo: Reproduced with the permission of Parks Canada.

Klein’s snow instruments made their way to Rogers Pass where they were used by Canadian avalanche pioneers Noel Gardner and Peter Schaerer during the planning and construction phases of the Trans-Canada Highway in the mid to late 1950’s, and used almost to this day in the Parks Canada avalanche control program.

Snow Study Plot, Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada, B.C.

Many thanks to Johan Schleiss who gave me a very “cool” tour of their snow study plot in Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada, B.C. Photo by author, March 2013

 

Click here to view VIDEO: Snowplow on the Trans-Canada Highway

Snowplow on the Trans-Canada Highway

This video was taken from the Bostok Creek parking lot at the foot of Mt. Fidelity, in Glacier National Park of Canada. Located at an elevation of 1,900m, the Mt. Fidelity Research Station monitors weather and conducts snowpack analysis for avalanche control. With an average annual snowfall of about 14m (42 feet), it is the snowiest place in Canada and ranked third snowiest place on Earth.

Digging Deeper:

Land of Thundering Snow
http://www.landofthunderingsnow.ca/index-eng.php” rel=”nofollow”>www.landofthunderingsnow.ca/index-eng.php

Backcountry Avalanche Information

http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/glacier/visit/a9.aspx

Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame, Canada Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa

http://cstmuseum.techno-science.ca/en/hall-of-fame/hall-of-fame-george-j-klein.php

Glacier National Park Canada

http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/glacier/index.aspx

Rogers Pass National Historic Site of Canada

http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/bc/rogers/index.aspx

 

Acknowledgements:

Many thanks to Parks Canada (Jeff Goodrich, Jacolyn Daniluck, and Johan Schleiss) for donating the Klein kit and other artifacts to the Museum. To Dr. John Woods, Wildvoices Consulting and Mike Conlan, ASARC Program, University of Calgary for finding Klein instruments still in use and pointing me in the right direction. To the National Research Council of Canada, who started the whole thing in the first place and for the use of the photo of the original Klein snow study kit, and to Dick Bourgeois-Doyle for answering the many questions I had on George Klein.

Sources:

Bourgeois-Doyle, R., George Klein: The Great Inventor, National Research Council Press, Ottawa, Canada, 1994.

Klein, G.J., Method of Measuring the Significant Characteristics of a Snow-Cover, Report No. MM-192, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, November 1946.

Klein, G.J., Canadian Survey of Physical Characteristics of Snow-Covers, For presentation at the Oslo Conference of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, June 1948.

Proceedings of 1947 Conference on Snow and Ice, Associate Committee on Soil and Snow Mechanics. Technical Memorandum No. 10 of the Associate Committee on Soil and Snow Mechanics, NRC, Ottawa, October 1947.

The International Classification for Snow, Issued by the International Association of Hydrology. Published as Technical Memorandum No. 31 by the Associate Committee on Soil and Snow Mechanics. National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, August 1954

CSTMC / M.Labrecque, 2014