(Reuters) - Suncor Energy Inc said on Wednesday that it expected to cut some 400 heavy-equipment operator positions over the next six years as it rolls out a fleet of self-driving trucks at its Canadian oil sand mining operations.
The Calgary, Alberta-based company plans to deploy more than 150 driverless trucks and said it would start cutting jobs as soon as next year. It currently has nine autonomous trucks hauling material at its North Steepbank project in Alberta.
The company said it planned to work with its labor union to find ways to mitigate the number of employees who lose their jobs, including training for other positions. Heavy-equipment operators will still be needed to work on other equipment.
Suncor is the first Canadian oil sands company to introduce autonomous trucks, a technology that has been used in hard rock mines in other parts of the world. It began purchasing them in 2015, but has so far been operating them with drivers.
Each mine will have its own control center to manage the 400-tonne vehicles, which have been programmed to operate in conditions unique to the oil sands, Chief Operating Officer Mark Little told Reuters.
The trucks, which can run 24 hours a day while only stopping to add fuel, will enhance safety at the company’s oil sand mines and reduce operating costs, Little said.
He did not provide details on those savings or the cost of the truck fleet.
Suncor had 12,837 employees at the end of 2016, including more than 6,000 people in its oil sands business unit.
Reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver; Editing by Jim Finkle and Peter Cooney