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MINE DEVELOPMENT NEWS – Albian Oil Sands: Seven Projects at Once

As if juggling a $5-billion-plus budget wasn't enough, the owners of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project are also keepi...


As if juggling a $5-billion-plus budget wasn’t enough, the owners of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project are also keeping seven separate, very large construction projects in the air at once. Here is a brief summary:

1. The MUSKEG RIVER MINE AND EXTRACTION PLANT ($1.8-billion). This is a greenfield development of a 300,000-tonnes/day open pit oil sands mine and 155,000-bbl/day bitumen extraction plant. It has a planned life of 30 years, perhaps more. Engineering and construction were done by a joint venture known as Muskeg River Construction.

2. The SCOTFORD UPGRADER ($1.7-billion). The new plant uses hydrogen-addition technology to break down bitumen into upgraded crude oils suitable for further refining. This process reduces sulphur dioxide emissions and eliminates high carbon coke byproducts. It produces more than 100 barrels of upgraded crude for every 100 barrels of bitumen that enters the plant. There were also upgrades to the existing SCOTFORD REFINERY so that it can treat crude from the upgrader.

3. The 450-km CORRIDOR PIPELINE SYSTEM ($690 million). To handle transport between the Muskeg River extraction plant and the Scotford upgrader, the system includes a 610-mm-diameter pipeline capable of transporting 215,000 bbl/day of bitumen to the upgrader; a 302-mm-diameter pipe to return solvent to the extraction plant; and pumping stations and associated tank storage. There are also lines to transport upgraded crude to the refinery near Edmonton, to existing oil terminals, and for supplementary feedstock to the Scotford upgrader. Pipeline construction was managed by Colt Engineering. Funds for the Corridor pipeline came from Corridor Pipeline Ltd., and Trans Mountain Pipe Line Co. Ltd. will operate it. (Both these companies are subsidiaries of BC Gas Inc.)

4. The NATURAL GAS PIPELINE from the existing TransCanada Transmission Chipewyan Station to the mine site ($37 million). The 116-km-long system belongs to Atco Pipelines, a new Alberta-based company, which combined the transmissions assets of Northwestern Utilities Ltd. and Canadian Western Natural Gas Co. Ltd. The pipeline supplies the needs of the Muskeg River cogeneration plant.

5. The MUSKEG RIVER MINE COGENERATION PLANT ($200 million). The plant has two natural gas-fired generator sets with low nitrous oxide burners; each has an output of about 85 MW. There are two heat recovery steam turbines with supplemental heat injection; each of these has an output of 1,000 GJ/hr. Two standby auxiliary boils, each with an output of 500 GJ/hr, are also installed. A 240-25 kV substation and power lines transmit electricity to the mine and extraction plant, and any surplus will be sold directly into the Alberta power grid. Compared with stand-alone steam and power generators, gas-fired cogeneration offers 50-60% greater fuel efficiency and 50-80% reductions in carbon dioxide creation. The plant is owned and operated by Atco Power, which was created 10 years ago as CU Power International Ltd. It already operates 1,485 MW of non-regulated generating capacity in North America, Europe and Asia, and is well on its way to doubling that amount.

6. The SCOTFORD UPGRADER COGENERATION PLANT ($120 million). This plant relies on technology similar to the Muskeg River cogeneration plant, but it is smaller. There is one 80-MW gas-fired turbine and a single 70-MW steam turbine generator. The heat recovery steam generator will produce 1,057 GJ/hr of heat. Again, the plant is designed, built and operated by Atco Power.

7. The SCOTFORD HYDROGEN PIPELINE PROJECT. Although Shell produces hydrogen at the Scotford upgrader, it is necessary to buy additional hydrogen. A pipe has been installed from the upgrader to the Dow Chemicals Canada Inc. facility. This 8.7-km-long pipeline is operated by Shell Canada.


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