Oil Sands: Syncrude garners awards
For the second year in a row, Syncrude Canada Ltd. has been recognized as one of Alberta’s top corporations. The company won top spot for Environmental Stewardship in a poll conducted by Alberta Venture magazine. The company was also among the top three in the Human Resources Practices, Culture of Innovation, and Corporate Leader (chairman and CEO Eric Newell) categories.
That was only the latest in a long line of awards. In February 2002, the company was awarded a Gold Level Achievement Award by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. The Alberta Chambers of Commerce’s highest award, the Premier’s Award of Distinction, was given to Syncrude in February 2001 for being distinguished on all fronts. In March 2001, the company won the 2000 Leadership Award from NRCan’s Voluntary Challenge and Registry (VCR) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The company won the same award in 1998, making it the only upstream oil and gas producer to be so honoured twice. In 2000, after a two-year independent study, Syncrude was named to the list of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. Undoubtedly, the company will garner more awards in the years to come.
Meanwhile, at the mine site, employees are busy with the $8-billion, 11-year-long Syncrude 21 expansion project (see CMJ, August 1999, page 24). The project will double production to 170 million bbl of Syncrude Sweet Blend (SSB) synthetic crude oil per year over the 1996 level. It is also focused on improving environmental, health and safety; introducing innovative, clean technologies; and providing long-term employment opportunities.
The first two stages of Syncrude 21 have been completed. Stage One (1996-99) included the North mine expansion and debottlenecking of the upgrader. It had a price tag of $470 million. The North mine was the first of Syncrude’s mines to rely on large-scale trucks and shovels rather than draglines and bucket-wheel reclaimers. Stage One also saw the first installation of a full-scale oil sands hydrotransport system. Stage Two (1998-2001) cost $1 billion, and included development of the first production train at the Aurora mine and further debottlenecking of the upgrader. During this time the world’s largest vacuum distillation unit (DVU) was installed in the upgrader. Trucks and shovels selected for the Aurora mine were the largest available at the time. The project at Aurora also included a proprietary, energy-saving extraction process that is efficient at temperatures of only 25-35C. An 80-MW gas turbine generator was built to supply power at Aurora.
Stage Three (2000-04) has an estimated cost of $3 billion. It includes increasing ore tonnage at the Aurora project (the second train) and the first of two expansion phases of the upgrader. Both will come on-line in 2003. To boost upgrader capacity, new froth treatment and diluent recovery units, a new fluid coker, distillate hydroprocessor, two new hydrogen plants, a sulphur plant, an amine plant, and a sour water treater will be built. Installation of a new flue gas scrubbing system will virtually eliminate sulphur dioxide emissions from the facility.
Stage Four (2004-07) includes a third production train at the Aurora mine and the final stage of expansion for the upgrader. It has an estimated cost of $2.3 billion. At this point Syncrude will be operating a considerably more energy-efficient and environmentally cleaner business.
No one expects change to end in 2007 at Syncrude or any of Canada’s oil sands producers. By then designers and engineers will have a new generation of productive, non-polluting technologies from which to choose. Further expansions could always be announced to meet North America’s continuing thirst for petroleum products.