There’s no shortage of good-intentioned inventors who claim they’ve discovered technologies that will 'solve' the key oil sands development challenges. These technologies look at new techniques for dealing with tailings liquid so it doesn’t have to be stored as long in ponds, new solvents that would replace steam for in situ oil sands extraction and new methods of filtering process water so it can be re-used.
Exploring new technologies
Some of these technologies show theoretical potential when demonstrated by their owners in labs or garages far removed from the oil sands region. But they often fall short when it comes to trying to get them to work efficiently and reliably on a larger scale or in the unforgiving climate of the oil sands region of Alberta.
Because of such challenging experiences, oil sands companies have been historically shy about adopting 'lab solutions' that haven’t been properly tested in operating conditions or at a commercial scale.
Water Technology Development Centre
All this is about to change, at least for technologies designed for in situ operations. Recently announced, the Water Technology Development Centre (WTDC) will be collectively managed by project partners to pilot new water technologies and prove commercial viability.
The centre will be integrated into Suncor’s own in situ Firebag oil sands production facility. Connected to the site’s production system, the WTDC will be able to simultaneously test a range of water treatment technologies in a live operating environment aimed at maximizing steam production, minimizing disposal and water use, and increasing operating reliability.
Classified as a joint industry project convened under Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), Suncor will lead the project while collaborating with five other industry partners - Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Devon Canada Corporation, Nexen Energy ULC, Shell Canada Energy and Husky Oil Operations Limited. Construction is scheduled for 2015, with operations expected to commence in early 2017.
Advancing water technologies
The WTDC, estimated at $165 million, will be used to develop new ways of approaching water treatment and recycling technologies. Having a dedicated facility will also shorten the time required to develop and commercialize technologies, and enhance existing technologies. Operating and testing costs will be shared between the member companies and knowledge about what works (or doesn’t) prior to full scale-up and deployment will be available to all contributing parties.
Water is an essential element for in situ extraction. By having the WTDC, operators can better address water efficiency and water management challenges.
The WTDC is yet another example of 'collaboration in action' through COSIA, bringing together a broad range of expertise to accelerate environmental performance in the oil sands.
We're taking a break
OSQAR will take a break next week to celebrate Canada Day and Independence Day. Look for our next edition the week of July 7.