At Albian Sands, oil is being dug out of the ground at a record pace. The crew works around the clock every day of the year and production never stops — not even for Christmas. It is quite the sight to behold. We stand 150 feet down, at the bottom of the mine, and watch as the razor-sharp blade on the end of a seven-story-tall electric power-shovel effortlessly scrapes a bucketload of sand from the quarry’s wall and drops it into a waiting truck. This is repeated until the shovel’s operator is satisfied that no more sand can be safely loaded, at which point he honks a horn and the truck leaves — with profits dependent upon the efficiency of the process, the trucks travel at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
Sometimes, multiple trucks await payloads on either side of the shovel, so, to avoid traffic jams — or worse, for there are 13,000-volt power cables lying nearby — the trucks’ paths are planned in real time by a centralized computer system that our hosts described as being “like air-traffic control.”