Wild Suburbs, Wild Energy, Wildfire
With the arrival of industrialized mining, the Canadian settlement of Fort McMurray grew from 1,100 in 1970 to its peak of 125,032 in 2015. Situated in the heart of Alberta’s Tar Sands the urban service area is alive with activity focused around the world’s largest mine, by area, potentially covering 149,000 square kilometres, equivalent in size to Greece.
In 2015, government-run Environment Canada issued data showing that seven refineries within a 30-kilometre radius released a total of 34 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere that year. The gases and other toxins are produced in order to separate the mineral bitumen from the earth to create refined synthetic oil. Production during 2016 distributed 2.4 million barrels of oil daily via 30-inch pipelines. These channels are being upgraded and include the planned Keystone XL pipeline. The scale of engineering and mining has altered the landscape beyond comprehension and made Canada third highest in global oil supply.
During spring of 2016, Fort McMurray’s residents encountered a different kind of force, the Horse River Wildfire. Evacuating with little warning, the hellfire approached the city limits then changed the lives and history of a hard working community. These pictures look at the aftermath and clean up. Fort McMurray is isolated and located deep in the boreal forest, the world’s largest woodland where the fire regime is forming under the warming climate.
I acknowledge that, framed within the context of global energy, Alberta’s fossil fuel resources and supply of crude oil are part of a complex global exchange mechanism that supplies infrastructure and products to the major and minor metropolitan areas of the globe where crude is subsequently consumed, releasing further GHG, or processed into a multitude of manifestations including plastic, roads and paint. I received abundant welcomes and experienced open receptions throughout Canada, and this project is no judgement on the good people that I met along the way or those who live in Fort McMurray and seek a better life for themselves and their families.
The full project contains 160 colour photographs, a 3,000-word essay, a journal entry, a 20-page dossier, contaminated human hair samples and sound recordings.
All photographs were taken between 15 October and 15 November 2016; and between 14 and 28 February 2017.
The Royal Photographic Society and The Photographic Angle Environmental Awareness Bursary
For further information on this project please contact Matt Shonfeld at The Story Institute by email here.
All images © Alan McFetridge