Suncor Energy expects to eliminate 400 jobs by deploying autonomous trucks to haul ore at its mining operations in Alberta’s tar sands/oil sands.
“We have about 500 roles that will get eliminated through this and we’re going to add about 100,” Chief Operating Officer Mark Little told The Canadian Press last week. “So the net change in our work force is about 400 positions.”
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After four years of testing, the company owns nine giant Komatsu trucks with capacity of 400 tonnes each. “It will gradually build a fleet of more than 150 driverless trucks over the next six years, starting with the North Steepbank mine at its Base Camp north of Fort McMurray,” CP reports.
The vehicles have been in use for almost exactly 10 years, with nearly 100 of them on hand at iron ore and copper mines in Australia and Chile. Suncor is the first Canadian fossil to embrace the technology.
“Suncor’s plan to test the autonomous truck systems was initially criticized by the Unifor union local because of job losses,” CP notes. “Little says Suncor is working with the union to minimize job impacts by retraining workers whose jobs will disappear.” But the company has also “been preparing for the switch by hiring its truck drivers, including those at its just-opened Fort Hills mine , on a temporary basis.”
The trucks, whose $5-million price tag excludes obstacle detection and other autonomous technology, run 24 hours per day, stop only for fuel, and get 40% better tire life by avoiding sudden acceleration and abrupt steering.
“Autonomous haulage systems reduce interaction between people and equipment, which decreases incident rates and injury potential,” Little said . “To be the very first company to test these systems and implement them at a commercial scale in our oil sands mining operations speaks to our long history of embracing and implementing game-changing technologies. It’s simply part of our DNA.”
“CIBC World Markets said in a spring 2017 report that on a scale of 1 to 10 of major oil sands cost reductions achievable with existing technology, autonomous hauling ranks a number 10,” industry publication JWN Energy notes .