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An Unconventional Discovery from an Unconventional Resource: Recovery of an Early Cretaceous Ankylosaur Fossil from an Oil Sands Mining Operation, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Hill, Steve *1
(1) Suncor Energy Inc., Fort McMurray, AB, Canada.

On March 21st, 2011, while excavating overburden materials at Suncor Energy Inc.’s oil sand mine located 50 km north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada; a shovel operator unearthed an unusual piece of siltstone with an odd texture and diamond pattern. The unusual texture and pattern were actually the first pieces discovered of a very rare 110 million year old Ankylosaur fossil.

The fossil discovery is significant for several reasons. It was the first dinosaur (non marine reptile) in Alberta to be found in this region from the Early Cretaceous time period. Almost the entire fossil has been preserved including skin impressions. Also, this was a terrestrial animal discovered in a marine deposit. It is postulated that the animal was washed out to sea, drifted for perhaps 100 km before submerging, and then began to fossilize within hours or days of sinking into the sea bed.

While being extremely rare and scientifically significant; the find was also located in the heart of an active open pit mining operation. This large scale oil sands operation moves more that 1 million tonnes of material and produces 300,000 bbls of synthetic crude oil (SCO) per day, 365 days a year. The challenge became how to properly excavate and document the find safely, while at the same time minimizing the impact to the ongoing mining operations. What transpired over the following four weeks was a great example of how industry and government came together to preserve a significant piece of Alberta’s history, without compromising production from one of the world’s most significant oil reserves.

The presentation provides an introduction to the Canadian oil sands industry, the geology and paleogeography of the Athabasca Oil Sands region during the Early Cretaceous Period, and a unique look at an once-in-a-lifetime dinosaur fossil discovery.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90142 © 2012 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, April 22-25, 2012, Long Beach, California