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Profile of the Municipal District of Opportunity #17
At 3.14 million hectares (approximately 29,180 square kilometers of land area), the Municipal District of Opportunity is the third largest Alberta municipality in size and, given its rich abundance in natural resources, is truly emerging as The Land of Opportunity.
Secondary Highways 754, 813, 686 and Primary Highway 88 link M.D. residents and businesses with the outside communities of Slave Lake, Athabasca, Peace River and Edmonton. The M.D. is also served by an airport just south of Wabasca/Desmarais – the largest hamlet in the municipality – located approximately 350 kilometers directly north of Edmonton.
The region has already welcomed major developments in forestry and the upstream oil and gas sectors and shows intriguing potential in diamond mining and tourism and outdoor recreation.
While diamond exploration activities have sparked hopes that industrial-quality diamond mining may soon emerge in the M.D., mining of the region's rich tourism potential is perhaps a more realistic goal for the near future.
The provincial park, Calling Lake and our own Municipal park, Rock Island Lake both provide excellent fishing and camping facilities. The Lions Club Recreational Area in Wabasca boasts many recent camping upgrades, along with a fishing pier, boat launch areas, swimming and picnicking sites.
From the densely forested back country, dotted with picturesque communities, to the pristine waters of Wabasca, Peerless, Chip & Trout Lakes, residents harbor a deep affinity for this land.
Logging and the production of wood products have been important to the M.D.'s prosperity for decades, thanks to the magnificent stands of boreal timber. Considerable employment and contract work has, and continues to be, generated in the production of pulp, lumber, veneer, oriented strandboard and other by-products.
Alberta Pacific Forest Industries (ALPAC) is the largest operator, with relatively large woodlands operations throughout the region and an office in Wabasca. Companies headquartered outside of the MD., but conducting work within it, include the Vanderwell Contractors, Tolko Industries, and both Alberta Plywood and Slave Lake Pulp Corporation (West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd).
The industry's commitment to sound forest resource management and environmental stewardship is a good indicator of continued economic success.
Calling Lake Provicial Park provides excellent camping facilities with recent upgrades made in 2012. Tanasiuk Recreation Area, a municipal recreation area, at Rock Island Lake offers excellent fishing and remote, rustic camping facilities. Orloff Lake is part of a Wildland Park which is only accessible by off-road vehicle or hiking. The Lions Club Wabasca Recreation Area boasts recent camping upgrades, along with a fishing pier, boat launch areas and swimming and picnicking sites.
Other M.D. communities also provide a wide range of amenities and recreational experiences to remember: Red Earth Creek has a shooting range, new tennis/basketball court, skate park and travel amenities; Sandy Lake and Peerless Lake, with their serene natural beauty, are also ideal locations for bird watchers; Trout and Chipewyan Lakes are home to abundant forms of wildlife.
Total Permanent Population (2011)
A recent survey (February/March 2011) of heads of households across the Municipal District of Opportunity and Bigstone Cree Nation Reserves puts the total permanent population of the area at about 5,400.
Municipal District of Opportunity: 2,905
Big Stone Cree Nation Reserves: 2,495
As of June 2011, it was estimated that there were another 1,775 beds in work camps across the region which are generally full in winter and less than half-occupied during the summer months.
The largest hamlet in the M.D. is Wabasca/Desmarais, with a population estimated at 3,500 (2011), split between M.D. residents and Bigstone Cree Nation members. Located on the narrows between North and South Wabasca Lakes, Wabasca/Desmarais serves as the headquarters for the Municipal District of Opportunity and the Bigstone Cree Nation, as well as for some provincial government area offices.
Other communities under M.D. administration include the hamlets of Calling Lake, Red Earth Creek, Sandy Lake, and the settlements of Chipewyan Lake, Peerless Lake and Trout Lake. Peerless and Trout Lakes have recently formed the Peerless-Trout Lake First Nations. All communities have benefited from numerous infrastructure improvements and investments in recent years, as the M.D. has moved to position the municipality for the future growth which lies ahead.
Future Developments – Conventional Oil and Gas
Currently, the area north of Wabasca/Desmarais produces about 60,000-62,000 barrels per day (bpd) using conventional and some enhanced oil recovery methods.
Some analysts are forecasting that increased use of enhanced oil recovery by Cenovus (at its 21,000-23,000 bpd Pelican Lake site) and Canadian Natural Resources (at its 33,000-35,000 bpd Britnell site), could make a significant contribution to boosting regional conventional oil production to between 95,000 and 100,000 bpd by 2017/2018.
Future Developments – Oil Sands
The emerging “oil-in-carbonate” oil sands developments in the Wabasca/Desmarais area are now widely seen as a significant new source of supply.
Some analysts are already forecasting that they will double or even triple oil output in the region.
To date, only small thermal projects with a total nameplate capacity of under 7,000 bpd are under construction or approved.
Laricina Energy started production earlier this year at a small 1,800 bpd pilot project on its Saleski lease. This project targets the Grossmont formation, a huge resource with an estimated 400 billion barrels of oil in place.
Laricina Energy is also building a 5,000 bpd pilot project on its Laricina-Germain lease, targeting the high-potential Grand Rapids formation.
Shell Canada is also constructing a small pilot project, testing electrical stimulation of the Grossmont formation.
What is most encouraging, however, are that several commercial thermal projects are also being planned with a combined total nameplate capacity of about 200,000 bpd. This includes major commercial thermal projects currently being planned by Laricina Energy (Laricina-Germain Commercial Project and Phase 1 of the Laricina-Saleski Project) and, although still much earlier on in the planning process, by other major lease holders in the area as well.
The Laricina-Germain Commercial Project would be the first commercial thermal stimulated bitumen facility in the Wabasca/Desmarais area. Clearly, the transition from conventional cold production, to enhanced oil recovery to thermal projects means that oil production in the Wabasca/Desmarais area will become much more labour- and infrastructure-intensive over the next 5-10 years.
Once built, thermal stimulated oil sands facilities exhibit many of the same characteristics of manufacturing facilities in terms of long-term presence in the same location, an ongoing focus on operational excellence, cost minimization and environmental performance.