52 entries categorized "How Stuff Works"

Behind the Scenes – Ensuring Fuel Quality at our Terminals and Stations

I have a confession. I still buy DVDs. Sure, I subscribe to a few (ok, way too many!) streaming services – they are very convenient, especially when travelling. But for a few choice films, I still purchase the DVD. Why? So I can listen to the director and crew commentary. I love hearing all the behind the scenes stories: how certain shots were set up, weird things they used for props, how costumes were designed (side note: Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy has some of the BEST commentaries – four different tracks!).

But my interest in behind-the-scenes details isn’t limited to films. I love talking to people who work out of the public eye in areas I know nothing about. So, I thought it would be interesting to talk to someone whose work is incredibly valuable to an end product I use most days – gasoline – but in an area I’m unfamiliar with.

Enter Marie-Claude Raymond, Senior Advisor, Fuel Quality at Suncor. The Fuel Quality team at Suncor (proud parent of Petro-Canada), as you would expect, ensures the quality of the end product – gasoline and other fuels – for customers. I sat down with Marie-Claude to ask her what that really means and what her day-to-day job entails.

PumpTalk: Marie-Claude, thank you for talking with me today! Tell me about the Fuel Quality group. What does your team do?

Marie-Claude Raymond: The Fuel Quality group ensures the quality of gasoline and other fuels for our customers. We are involved with everything that relates to fuel quality, including making sure new fuel-related products meet the expected quality and follow provincial and federal regulations. New products include things like renewable fuels (biodiesel and hydrotreated renewable diesel), as well as new fuel additives. We also monitor provincial and federal regulations in case anything changes that would impact our current products.

Petro-Pass Station

The team also fields requests from potential business customers, like municipal authorities, who want to start using renewable fuels for their fleets. And we support sales and marketing teams at Petro-Canada if they respond to a tender from these potential customers or need to review contracts.

And, we audit processes at the terminal to ensure the quality of the fuel is always maintained. If there is a question about fuel quality, we are the ones who conduct the investigations.

PT: Wow, that’s a lot of different skills! Did you have any special training?

MR: My background is in chemistry; I worked as a chemist in Suncor’s Montreal refinery lab for several years. All the work in the lab prepared me well for the move to the fuel quality team. It’s a very collaborative environment. It is important to be flexible because priorities can change quickly. We need to be able to work with different groups of people: supply chain, maintenance, customer service, sales, etc. Teamwork, good communication, and customer focus are very important aptitudes.

PT: You mentioned that one of the areas you’re responsible for is investigating fuel quality issues. How does an investigation come about? And what activities are part of the investigation?

MR: We don’t have a lot of quality investigations because our process for delivering fuel is so comprehensive. But, if there is one, typically customer service will have alerted us to a concern from a customer at a particular retail site. To conduct the investigation, we follow a very specific process to validate the quality of the fuel from the terminal where it originated to the retail location where the customer received the fuel. We make sure that the procedures in place to maintain the quality have been followed.

Petro-Canada Station

PT: If you do find any problems with the quality of fuel, where are they likely to be?

MR: Having water created through condensation in the tanks is the most likely problem area. It is best practice to keep tanks full, especially when seasons are changing. Plus, at our retail sites, we have filters and monitoring alarms on the tanks to detect water. Following the regulatory and safety processes as we move fuel from terminal to station is so important. It’s why, as a customer, you want to make sure that you purchase your gasoline from places where these processes are in place.


Marie-Claude – thank you so much for this peek behind-the-scenes at Petro-Canada’s Fuel Quality team! Are there any other areas you’d be interested in learning more about at Petro-Canada? Let us know in the comments!

~Kate T.

Moving Energy Across Canada

Recently, I was trying to figure out this weird thing that was happening on my iPhone (embarrassing confession - my Bitmojis were showing up smaller than all my friends Bitmojis and they were mocking me). So, I turned to the Internet - not only a beautiful time waster, but also a source of surprisingly useful knowledge. After a quick search, I found a very helpful explainer video telling me how to fix my Bitmoji problem. I love a good explainer video.

Moving Energy Across Canada

That's why I was so happy when I saw this video from Canadian Geographic Education and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) called "Moving Energy". It is part of the Energy IQ series, a Canadian online energy literacy program that aims to increase knowledge of Canada’s energy mix.

"Moving Energy" presents an overview of how different types of energy (including electricity, natural gas and oil) are moved across Canada and delivered to where we all need it to be. I was particularly struck by the illustration of the electrical grid as well as the pipeline system in Canada. We are a big nation and have to move a lot of energy some very serious distances!

Other explainer videos in the series include "Managing Climate Change and Global Energy Demand" and "Trading Energy – The Canada-US Story". Energy IQ also hosts a quiz about personal energy use that allows you see how you compare with others across Canada and in your home province. As someone who is trying to reduce her personal and household's energy usage, I find that the info on Energy IQ gives me some insight into how I use energy in my daily routine and where I have some opportunities for improvement.

Disclosure: Suncor, proud owner of Petro-Canada, is a member of CAPP.

- Rose R.

Honking Around: Behind the Scenes with Penelope and George

The other day when I happened to glance out my window, a 3-person camera crew passed by, filming two actors walking and chatting. It could have been a documentary, a romantic comedy or a bank commercial. We get it all here in Vancouver, aka Hollywood North. This camera-crew-pass-by has been the closest I've gotten to the action. Though last summer the Netflix show Travelers spent a couple of days filming in a house two doors down and I got to buzz the craft table that was set up on the sidewalk.

My on-set aspirations were finally realized when Vancouver (well, Surrey) was the chosen locale for Petro-Canada's latest commercial shoot. I was delighted to have the opportunity to witness some "movie magic". Spoiler alert: a lot of the magic was seen through monitors while sitting in the "keep the clients and agency out of our way" bus. Not as glamorous as I pictured it in my head.

On the day I was on set, two commercials were shot. The first, an English spot called “Goose”, stars a goose that is very interested in keeping our country clean. The second, a French spot called “Apprentissages”, highlights how we can help teach our kids to be independent and responsible.

One of the reasons Vancouver was chosen is because our spring can come quite early. Not this year! This is what Vancouver looked like the day of our indoor shoot.

But, after a couple of days of clean up and some last-minute weather-related good luck (our elusive Vancouver sun made an appearance), this is what our site in Surrey looked like on the day of outdoor filming. You can see the reflective screens for lighting the shoot.

I was really impressed with the snow removal team. They washed the snow off the driveway and the buildings as well as clearing it out of the trees. In the “Goose” commercial, you can see a nearby house in the background. This is the house before snow removal.

This is the house as seen in the background of the commercial.

And here you can see how clean the station lot is. Looks just like spring. Magic!

One of the most interesting parts of the shoot was how the trainers worked with the live geese. There were five people responsible for the well-being of the geese while they were on set. First, the gentleman on whose land the geese reside, looked after their transport and general care.

Then, there were three professional trainers, each with over 25 years of film experience, who worked with the geese during the shoot to try to get the responses that the director wanted. They had a lot of tools at their disposal, including bird call whistles. They would also climb on a ladder to try to get a higher eyeline from the goose.

And finally there was a representative from Movie Animals Protected (MAP), a company that monitors treatment of animals on film sets, to confirm the geese remained comfortable and were not put under any stress.

Here are Penelope and George, resting between takes. They are a bonded pair and have had several sets of goslings together. In the final commercial, which you can see below, it looks like only one goose made it in. But they are actually sharing acting duties. George was a master of honking – you see him in the first scene. Penelope, the calmer of the two, excelled at the disinterested walk away – you see her in the closing shot. 

But great technique wasn’t reserved for our animal actors. During the shoot with the kids, the director encouraged them to play in-between takes: jumping jacks, push-ups, balancing games. This really helped them get out of “actor mode” and into “kid mode” resulting in really natural interaction in the commercial. You can see it in the commercial below.


Those were the highlights of my day on-set. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get any shots of the resplendent craft services table, although I did snag a gluten-free muffin and a smoothie. Have you had the opportunity to be on a film or commercial set? Share your stories in the comments below!

- Rose R.

Buying local – our apples and our oil

Edmonton refinery at sunset

I'm a bit bummed that summer is over and there are only a few outdoor Farmer's Market days left. One of my favourite things is getting to talk to producers and know where my fruits and veggies come from. Buying local is good for the local economy and feels good too - knowing that you're helping agri-entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

This "buying local" attitude doesn't just apply to Farmer's Markets. It's a value and a commitment that we take seriously at Suncor. And we know that it is important to you as well. We've received a number of questions on social media asking where the oil that we use in our gasoline comes from.

As a reminder, Suncor operates refineries in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Colorado. In these refineries, we produce the fuel that we sell at gas stations in Canada and the U.S. In general, the vast majority of the oil that makes up our refined products originates from Western Canada, primarily from the oil sands. We also source crude oil from the east coast off Newfoundland and from the North Sea.

Specifically, each refinery gets its crude supply from a different mix of sources:

The majority of the oil that our Montreal Refinery receives is from inland North American sources, with the rest coming from the east coast off Newfoundland and occasionally from the North Sea.

The majority of oil supplied to the Sarnia refinery is from western Canada, supplemented with purchases from the U.S.

The feedstock for our Edmonton refinery is entirely from the oil sands, primarily from our own oil sands operations but also from Syncrude and other producers from the Wood Buffalo and Cold Lake regions of Alberta.

Commerce City
The majority of feedstock for our Commerce City, Colorado refinery is supplied from sources in the U.S. Rocky Mountain region with the remainder being purchased from Canadian sources.

It's great to have so many local options for sourcing oil when it comes to producing gasoline. Is buying local important to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

- Rose R.

Stop Seeing Red: Smart Traffic Lights that Reduce Congestion and Emissions

Traffic lights

One of the things I do to keep my sanity when I commute is to celebrate the little victories: someone unexpectedly letting me merge, the line at the drive-thru coffee place not having a 10-car wait and not hitting every single red light on my way from my house to the highway. This last one is really the unicorn of commuting events - it almost never happens. And, like a lot of you, I think to myself as I'm sitting at the umpteenth red light in a row, "We can put a man on the moon; why can't they just sync these lights up?"

Well, it turns out they CAN sync them up. The City of Toronto is piloting two traffic light systems that use different implementations of artificial intelligence to adjust traffic signals in real-time, ideally reducing congestion, idling and ultimately, emissions, during peak use hours.

One of Toronto's pilot systems uses video cameras to measure car queue lengths at the approach to an intersection and then makes decisions about traffic light timing. The other system uses radar detection that measures traffic flow upstream and downstream of the intersection to make similar decisions. Toronto's pilot program started in November 2017 and is expected to run through 2018.

The City has not made results available yet, but the systems being tested are similar to a smart traffic light system that was implemented in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2012. Since the initial implementation, Pittsburg has been increasing their smart intersections over the last few years to a total of 50 intersections, with another 150 planned by 2020. So far, Pittsburgh has seen intersection wait times fall by 40%, journey time fall by 25% and emissions from idling cars on these commutes reduced by 20%.

This video features an interview with Stephen Smith, Director of the Intelligent Coordination and Logistics Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University, where the smart traffic light system in Pittsburgh was first developed.

What do you think? If you're in Toronto, have you driven the route where these traffic lights are in place? Have you noticed an improvement in your commute? Would these work in your city? Let us know in the comments!

- Rose R.