Canada's Athabasca oil sands is one of the most punishing places on the planet--and it's also the worksite of a fleet of five John Deere skid steers.

Canada's Athabasca oil sands-one of the world's largest petroleum resource basins-is one of the most punishing places on the planet. It's also the worksite of a fleet of five John Deere skid steers belonging to Carmacks Construction of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

The oil sands are a huge, buried pile of sand with oil residue, and Carmacks' fleet of skid steers must endure a steady rain of abrasive, sandy, oily material constantly falling from the sky. The spillage material is so abrasive that in just 36 hours it completely wears down a bucket's cutting edge, according to Dave Scragg, manager, Carmacks Construction.

A truck-and-shovel method is used to mine the oil sands. This method allows operators to access a higher quality of oil sands with less clay. Huge shovels load the sand into 350-ton trucks, which transport the mix to primary crushers. The oil-sand mix is transported from the crushers to the oil-extraction plant by a 600-meter-long conveyor. Concrete beams support the conveyor, which is suspended as high as 20 meters above the ground in places. The skid steers clear spillage from underneath the conveyor. The spillage piles up so rapidly that in a 12-hour shift, it starts to reach the conveyor even where 20 meters of clearance had existed.

"There's barely enough room, but the Deere skid steers have the ability to get into tight spaces, with the power you need to pick up this material," Scragg said.

Carmacks has used both 200- and 300-Series Skid Steers. Recently the energy company that contracts Carmacks rented three John Deere 328 skid steers to work underneath the conveyor.

Over the years, Carmacks has owned more than 40 John Deere skid steers. In addition to the advantages the machines provide, the Deere dealer network has been a real partner to the company, according to Scragg.

Source: John Deere, July 12, 2005