Amidst the strange industrial landscape of Canada’s Athabasca oil sands, Shawn Funk is hard at work. At the controls of his excavator, he digs down through ancient layers, hoping to reach the precious bitumen beneath. But when his bucket strikes something hard, he makes a find that’s actually far, far more valuable.
On March 21, 2011, Funk was on duty at Millennium Mine, a facility near Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Operated by Canadian energy company Suncor, the mine is one of several built to capitalize on the deposits in the Athabasca oil sands.