Our first quarter production volumes averaged 267,000 boe/d (222,000 boe/d after royalties) as all areas met or exceeded targets with the exception of Syncrude. During the quarter, Syncrude experienced downtime as a result of cold weather and unscheduled maintenance, reducing expected quarterly volumes by over 5,000 bbls/d. In the North Sea, Buzzard performed well and contributed 91,500 boe/d (212,000 boe/d gross) compared to 75,000 boe/d (174,000 boe/d gross) in the fourth quarter of 2007. After a year of operating experience, Buzzard start up issues are behind us and facility performance is now consistently exceeding our original design expectations. We have one week of scheduled maintenance downtime planned for Buzzard in each of the second and third quarters which will reduce production volumes slightly from the first quarter. In addition, the recent shut down of the Forties pipeline due to strike action at the Grangemouth refinery in Scotland caused us to shut-in production from Buzzard, Scott/Telford and Farragon. This will reduce our production volumes for the second quarter. For the next two quarters, we also expect Syncrude's volumes to remain at rates similar to the first quarter as two of their three cokers have planned turnarounds.
"With strong first quarter production and the ramp up of Long Lake and Ettrick later this year, we are well positioned to meet our annual guidance range of 260,000 boe/d to 280,000 boe/d," commented Fischer.
Long Lake Project Update
During the quarter, we reached two major milestones as bitumen production began to ramp up and we completed construction of the upgrader. Total costs and project timing remain on schedule.
We are injecting steam into the reservoir through all well pads and we started converting wells to SAGD production in late February. Currently 29 of 81 well pairs have been converted to SAGD. While early production rates are variable, total bitumen production is averaging 6,200 bbls/d with peak rates to date in excess of 7,500 bbls/d (3,750 bbls/d net to us). During the first quarter, we started up the first cogeneration unit which has reliably produced power in excess of 80 megawatts. Surplus power was sold into the Alberta power grid. We recently started up the second cogeneration unit and we expect it to be fully operational shortly. We expect to convert the remaining well pairs to SAGD by mid summer. This will allow bitumen production to grow to full rates over the next 6 to 12 months. The bitumen production capacity of the SAGD facilities is approximately 72,000 bbls/d (36,000 bbls/d net to us).
"We are encouraged by the early production results and build up of reservoir pressure at Long Lake," said Fischer. "Based on two months of data, our bitumen production and SOR rates are meeting our expectations. We are confident we will have sufficient feedstock for the start up of the upgrader."
With construction of the upgrader complete, we have turned over all units and systems to operations. We estimate that commissioning is over 50% complete and we plan to start introducing hydrocarbons into key processing units in May. Last week, while introducing oxygen into a liquid oxygen tank the tank roof was damaged. We are presently investigating the cause of the damage and implementing solutions to keep the upgrader start up process on track. Our start up schedule forecasts production of synthetic crude to ramp up to full rates over a 12 to 18 month period following initial upgrader start up. The upgrader is designed to produce approximately 60,000 bbls/d (30,000 bbls/d net to us) of premium synthetic crude.
This project only develops about 10% of our oil sands leases. We plan to increase synthetic crude oil production as we sequentially develop our lands in 60,000 bbls/d (30,000 bbls/d net to us) phases using technologies developed at Long Lake.
"We are excited about bringing our first integrated insitu oil sands project on stream in the coming months," stated Fischer. "The project, which is designed to produce one of the highest quality crudes in North America, is progressing as planned and once Long Lake is fully ramped up, we expect to enjoy a significant margin improvement over competing technologies as our energy costs will be significantly reduced. This project will generate significant value for our shareholders."
Work continues on Phase 2 and our goal is to sanction this phase by year end. However, ultimate timing depends on accumulating sufficient operating history from Phase 1 and receiving clarity on proposed regulatory changes such as climate change. Proposed federal climate change regulations indicate a move towards carbon capture and sequestration. With the addition of shift reactors to future phases, our unique process allows for the pre-combustion capture of green house gas emissions for future sequestration.
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