For some, the oilsands are the key to Canada’s economic salvation. For others, they're ground-zero for climate change and environmental destruction. When you work the rigs, this debate is the relentless background noise.
“I think it’s hypocritical to be honest - who doesn't drive, who doesn't have things made with petroleum products?” says Tyson Cornfield, who works 12-hour shifts on a drilling rig in Christina Lake, Alta.
He makes good money, but he also points out there’s a stigma that goes with working the rigs.
“I am earning a living, it's the best I can do with the hand I've been dealt, so I don't understand how people can look down at me for that … the world is not ready to live without oil so, unless you stop using it you can't say anything about it. We are out here making a living, we are not villains.”
CBC News visited the Cenovus Energy operation at Christina Lake, 150 kilometres south of Fort McMurray in the boreal forest. It’s the size of small town, with 2,300 workers who keep the plant operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The facility produces around 150,000 barrels of oil a day, and even with oil prices dropping Cenovus says that’s not going to change.
To find out what it’s like to work at the heart of the oilsands, and to get a view of the industry from the perspective of the people it employs, watch The National’s documentary “Up Close: Oilsands” at 9 p.m. on Feb. 2, or stream it here.