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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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SuncorSuncor began as the American based Sun Company Inc. In 1917, Sun started to supply lubricating oils, kerosene, and spirits to Montreal plants for the war effort. The company decided to open an office in Montreal under the name Sun Company of Canada in 1919. The company began to ship in new product lines in 1920 including fuel oil and gasoline by rail from the United States. In the 1930s, further expansion into the Canadian market continued with the first Sunoco service stations opening in Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. The company also built a lubricating oil and grease storage plant in Toronto. Not until the 1940s did Sunoco develop oil holdings in Canada with the drilling of its first well, a dry hole in Nova Scotia. In an effort to secure North American sources of oil for the United States, Sun Company knew it must find producing wells in Canada. In 1950, the company began a three year core-hole drilling program in Alberta, acquiring Lease 86, Sunoco’s existing oil sands operation. The gamble paid off and the Sun Company’s first successful well was at New Norway, Alberta.

The next major endeavor for Sun Oil was described as the biggest gamble in history by the industry, the ambitious Great Canadian Oil Sands project that began in 1963. Sun invested almost a quarter-billion dollars making it the largest single private investment in the country at that time. In 1964, construction of the oil sands facilities at Fort McMurray began. Three years later on 30 September 1967, the 45,000-barrel-per-day oil sands plant in Fort McMurray was completed with the price tag of $240 million. On the opening day, Alberta Premier Ernest Manning said, "This is a red letter day, not only for Canada but for all North America. No other event in Canada's centennial year is more important or significant."

The continued growth of the company resulted in the formation of all the Canadian operations of Sun Company Inc. being amalgamated with Great Canadian Oil Sands to form Suncor Inc. in 1979. During the 1980s, the company continued to become a major force in Canada with a part of Suncor being sold to the Province of Ontario.

The last part of the century brought strong fiscal developments for Suncor. In 1994, Suncor purchased a new lease across the Athabasca River from the company's existing operations. This was one way that the company could expand their oil sands business. Diverse interests helped: Suncor became a publicly traded company in 1992 with an initial share price equivalent to $2.38. Further developments resulted in major stock holder changes. The Government of Ontario divested its interest in Suncor, and Sun Company Inc. reduced its holdings to 55 percent. Next, Sun Company Inc. of Philadelphia sold its remaining 55 percent interest in Suncor. The company was now predominately Canadian owned and moved its head office from Toronto to Calgary because 60 percent of Suncor's asset base was in Alberta.

The biggest success came in 1996 with the total of 500 million barrels of oil produced since operations began in 1967. The company wanted to place more emphasis on diversification of the energy sector. A part of this was the Project Millennium, begun in 1999. The goal was to increase oil sands production to 225,000 barrels per day by 2002. They succeeded: Suncor increased its total production by 53 percent to 239,500 barrels of oil per day from 156,000 barrels per day in 2001. A part of this growth may be attributed to Suncor’s emphasis on renewable energy. Suncor made an agreement with TransAlta to build, own, and operate a $315-million facility at the oil sands. The project provided Suncor with the energy in steam and electricity that allowed increased production rates. Suncor also announced plans to invest $100 million in alternative and renewable energy by 2005.

If the first few years of the twenty-first century are any indication, Suncor will enjoy even more commercial growth in the near future. In 2003, Suncor gained the US Federal Trade Commission permission to acquire ConocoPhillips’ Colorado refinery, as well as Phillips branded retail stations, storage, pipeline, and distribution facilities. Currently in 2005, Suncor submitted an application to construct and operate a third oil sands upgrader. The upgrader is a key component of increasing oil production to the goal of a million barrels per day.


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