Imagine bitumen as the ketchup and an oil sands operation as the bottle (except for the edibility part, of course).
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto
Traditionally, getting more bitumen out of an existing site required the oil sands production equivalent of arduously hammering the bottle with your palm – large capital expenditures, elaborate new facilities and an increased development footprint.
But these days, Suncor and other established players are looking to add production without spending big dollars or upsizing their sites.
The growth is being pursued through something known in industry circles as “debottlenecking.”
Debottlenecking simply involves tweaking your equipment and operations to produce and sell more bitumen. It’s sort of like putting a wider-mouth on a bottle to get more ketchup out.
Because they involve tweaking what already exists, debottlenecking projects have great appeal for oil sands operators because they’re lower risk and require less capital investment than expanding facilities. Such projects also draw on existing operational know-how backed by years of experience.
Suncor, for example, is pursuing several debottlenecking projects (see slide 14 in this PDF presentation). One of these efforts involves better management of diluent, which is blended with thick bitumen to make it flow easily through pipelines. After all, the more diluent we can store, the more bitumen we can sell.
Another project at Suncor’s MacKay River in situ facility involves capturing more of the steam generated on-site for use in underground bitumen extraction.
While debottlenecking is an option for Suncor and other established players, it isn’t for newer oil sands companies still working to establish operations.
As observers note in this report, the focus on debottlenecking is a hallmark of a maturing oil sands industry.
Asset reliability, operational performance
Over time, oil sands companies will continue to move toward asset reliability and operational performance over rapid growth, and debottlenecking is just one way industry is making the most out of its abundant resources.
While being “slow good” may be a virtue in the world of condiments, it certainly isn’t when it comes to adding the bitumen production needed to help satiate the world’s energy appetite.
OSQAR is taking a break
Like many of you, OSQAR will be taking a break over the Easter holidays. Look for our next post on April 30.