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Take A Relaxing Bath In Alberta Oilsands Bitumen. Yes, Really.

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oilsands fort mcmurrayAn oilsands worker in Fort McMurray holds up a sample. (Photo: Getty)

An entrepreneur has found a new way to make money from Alberta's oilsands. Offer spa customers the chance to get slathered in bitumen.

Buff Parry and his company, The Salai Project Inc, wants to open a bitumen spa resort in Fort McMurray.

If the concept of slathering the petroleum product all over your skin seems a bit off putting, you're not alone.

"It takes a little bit of discussion," Parry said in an interview with The Huffington Post Alberta, but adds that it makes a lot more sense to travellers who have visited the Dead Sea.

Therapeutic and cosmetic purposes

Black mud from the Dead Sea has been used for therapeutic or cosmetic purposes for thousands of years. Plenty of estheticians swear by their favourite clay or mud mask that can emulate the mix of minerals found on the shores of Jordan or Israel.

According to scholars, one of those minerals that has been in the Dead Sea area for thousands of years is bitumen.

dead sea mud
Visitors to the Dead Sea slather themselves in mud. (Photo: Motty Levy/Design Pics via Getty)

Bitumen is a dirty word to many people, bringing to mind pipeline spills, and shocking TV clips of dead birds coated in black ooze.

But the viscous material is also a primary ingredient in the oilsands of northern Alberta, mixed with chemical solvents and then pumped through pipelines.

"It's a deserved impression — bitumen is destructive. It has been used for, ultimately, long-term destructive purposes," says Parry.

"But, no sense in throwing the baby out with the bitumen bathwater," he adds, with a laugh.

History of use in skincare

Parry's interest in bitumen was sparked when he worked with the Indigenous Media Institute. His office was located in a hall filled with photos of the Athabasca River near the turn of the century.

The images showed Indigenous people harvesting bitumen seeping into the river.

athabasca river
A 19th century print shows Alberta's Athabasca River region. (Photo: Print Collector/Getty)

“I read the captions under the photos, and those captions included descriptions of Indigenous use of bitumen for health purposes, for healing purposes — and that really caught my attention.”

"No sense in throwing the baby out with the bitumen bathwater."

According to Parry, the earliest recorded human use of bitumen dates back 40,000 years.

“Considering our economy and considering there’s a real, untapped knowledge reserve here concerning the historical traditional uses of bitumen, you know… maybe something could be developed,” says Parry.

black mud mask
Visitors to the proposed centre will be able to receive a variety of bitumen treatments. (Photo: Getty)

The proposed spa resort would offer everything from crude, bitumen body wraps and slatherings to warm, refined bitumen oil baths.

Ideally, Parry says, the spa’s pricing would strike a balance between attracting both the local community and tourists.

He adds that pharmaceutical companies have also expressed interest in using the centre to study other health applications for bitumen.

"This can be done, and Fort McMurray is a place where it can be done."

The spa’s working name is “The Land of Nitukki,” a Cree word that means “the place of eternity.” Parry says he likes the linguistic connection to a similar Mesopotamian word, “Nituchi,” that means “I am eternal,” as a way to connect the points in history that inspired the centre.

Parry's project still has a long way to go. Next steps include a feasibility study and a search for possible locations, but responses have been positive, according to Parry.

"This can be done, and Fort McMurray is a place where it can be done," Parry said.

“There’s just this incredible treasure of knowledge around bitumen that has gone by the wayside because of what bitumen has done and continues to do.”

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