OPTI Achieves Significant Oil Sands Milestones in Early 2009
OPTI has reported its financial and operating results for the year ended December 31, 2008. The Long Lake Project (the Project) is the first to use OPTI's integrated OrCrude(TM) process. Our proprietary process is designed to substantially reduce operating costs compared to other oil sands projects while producing a high quality, sweet synthetic crude. We are also advancing future phases of growth via a multi-stage expansion strategy to reach 126,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) of Premium Sweet Crude (PSC(TM)) production capacity net to OPTI.
Key recent developments include the:
- Production of first PSC(TM), the highest quality synthetic crude to come from Canada's oil sands. Syngas is being produced in the Upgrader and used in the steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) operations to significantly reduce operating costs. The operations team is actively working to stabilize production, which is expected to ramp-up to approximately 58,500 bbl/d of PSC(TM) (21,000 bbl/d net to OPTI) in 2010;
- Maintenance of an outstanding safety record throughout 2008 as commissioning and start-up activities were completed on the Long Lake Upgrader; and
- Sale of a 15 percent working interest in our joint venture to our partner, Nexen Inc. (Nexen), for $735 million. Effective January 1, 2009, OPTI retains a 35 percent working interest in the joint venture assets, future phase reserves and resources, and future phases of development.
"While commodity and financial markets continue to be challenging, we are pleased to have achieved key milestones early in 2009," said Sid Dykstra, President and Chief Executive Officer. "With first production of on-spec PSC(TM) a few weeks ago we demonstrated our technology works. In addition, with the closing of the working interest sale we have significantly enhanced our liquidity while retaining a substantial stake in a world class asset."
First production of PSC(TM) from the Long Lake Project was achieved in January 2009. Preparation is underway to transition gasifier feed from vacuum residue to ashphaltenes, the final step in Upgrader commissioning. Synthesis gas from the Upgrader has been used in SAGD operations, decreasing operating costs by reducing the requirement for purchased third-party natural gas. During the initial operating period, we expect periods of downtime but anticipate that the stability of operations will continue to improve. The Upgrader is currently gasifying but not producing PSC(TM) due to issues with water supply and treating but is expected to resume production in the near future. Essentially all of the PSC(TM) produced to date has been used as diluent.
During the final commissioning phase, prior to the operation of the solvent deasphalting and thermal cracking units, there is a high percentage of diluent that feeds the Upgrader and continues to the hydrocracker, forming part of the PSC(TM) stream. We have produced over 20,000 bbl/d (gross) of on-spec PSC(TM), with between 10,000 and 12,000 bbl/d (gross) of this representing upgraded bitumen. The remainder represents diluent processed through the Upgrader. The percentage of diluent in the Upgrader feed will decrease as bitumen production increases.
We expect Upgrader capacity during ramp-up will be capable of processing all of the forecasted SAGD volumes and we expect the Project to reach full capacity of approximately 58,500 bbl/d of PSC(TM) and other products in 12 to 18 months.
The reservoir continues to perform as expected given the amount of steam we have injected. However, SAGD ramp-up has been affected by a variety of surface issues that have limited the amount of steam we have been able to inject into the reservoir over the past few months due to power disruptions, extreme cold weather, and water temperature and treating issues. Since steam injection rates directly impact bitumen production rates, and the ability to generate steam is currently limited, bitumen production is lower than previously expected. Solutions are being developed to place more heat into the front end of the steaming process to supplement the heat returns from the reservoir. Given steaming constraints, allocation of steam was necessary and accordingly only 32 of 81 well pairs are presently in production mode. January bitumen production averaged approximately 13,000 bbl/d (gross). As steam capacity increases, the remaining wells will be brought on-stream.
ADVANCING FUTURE PHASES
Our capital program for 2009 includes funds allocated to advance detailed engineering on the SAGD and Upgrader facilities for Phase 2 of the Project and also includes funds for additional core hole drilling to further delineate our nearer-term development leases.
Regulatory approval for Phases 2 and 3 of SAGD development at Long Lake (Long Lake South) was received in February 2009. Phase 2 sanctioning will depend on multiple factors including initial performance of Phase 1, receiving regulatory approval for Phase 2 SAGD operations, receiving clarity on proposed climate change regulations, developing cost estimates and an improved economic environment. We therefore do not expect to consider sanctioning Phase 2 until mid-2010 at the earliest.
COMPLETION OF ASSET SALE AND DEBT FACILITY AMENDMENT
On January 27, 2009, OPTI announced that we had completed the sale of a 15 percent working interest in our joint venture assets to our partner Nexen for $735 million. Effective January 1, 2009 , OPTI has a 35 percent working interest in all joint venture assets, including Phase 1 of the Project, all future phase reserves and resources, and future phases of development. As a result of the asset sale, our revolving debt facilities were amended on January 27, 2009. Significant changes include:
- $150 million revolving credit facility was repaid and cancelled;
- $500 million revolving credit facility was reduced to $350 million, a total of approximately $400 million was repaid through February 17, 2009, and applicable interest rates were increased by approximately 2 to 4 percent depending on our debt ratings;
- First lien to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) covenant commences in the third quarter of 2009 with a maximum ratio 2.5:1 as defined in Note 10 to the audited financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2008 (previously the first quarter of 2009 and a ratio of 3.5:1);
- Debt to capitalization ratio was increased to 70 percent from 65 percent, also as defined in Note 10 to the audited financial
- statements for the year ended December 31, 2008; and
- The Canadian measurement of our U.S.-dollar-denominated debt was changed from a period-end exchange rate to an average rate for the preceding quarter.
OPTI's management team is transitioning as a result of the asset sale to Nexen. David Halford, Chief Financial Officer, Mary Bulmer, VP Human Resources and Corporate Services, and Peter Duda, VP Operations will be leaving to pursue other business opportunities. They will remain with OPTI for various periods to continue to facilitate the transition.
Travis Beatty has been appointed Vice President, Finance and Chief Financial Officer of OPTI effective March 1, 2009. Mr. Beatty joined OPTI in 2002 as Controller and since then has also held the roles of Treasurer and Director, Planning. Mr. Beatty is a Chartered Accountant and a Chartered Financial Analyst, and holds a B.Comm from the University of Calgary. Al Smith has been appointed Vice President, Marketing effective March 1, 2009. Mr. Smith joined OPTI in 2006 as Director, Marketing. Mr. Smith is a professional engineer in Alberta and is a member of both APEGGA and APEGBC. He holds a B.A.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.
Going forward, OPTI's senior management team will consist of: Sid Dykstra, President and Chief Executive Officer; Travis Beatty, VP Finance and CFO; Joe Bradford, VP Legal and Administration and Corporate Secretary; Bill King, VP Development; and Al Smith, VP Marketing.
RESERVES AND RESOURCES
OPTI has a significant presence in the Athabasca oil sands, with a 35 percent interest in over 385 sections of land on three leases: Long Lake, Leismer and Cottonwood. We believe our existing lands will support approximately 360,000 bbl/d of PSC(TM) production (126,000 bbl/d net to OPTI) from six phases including Long Lake Phase 1. Based on reserve and resource estimates, we believe there is potential for three phases at Long Lake, two phases at Leismer and one at Cottonwood. With a limited delineation program in the 2007/2008 winter drilling season, total reserve and resource volumes did not change significantly.
McDaniel & Associates (McDaniel), our reserves and resources evaluator, has prepared a report evaluating the bitumen reserves and synthetic oil reserves of the Long Lake leases effective December 31, 2008. Due to the advanced nature of our Long Lake Phase 2 project, previously recognized Contingent Resources are now booked as probable and possible reserves. For 2008, McDaniel has also recognized probable and possible reserves associated with lands outside the Phase 2 initial development area to include certain lands pertaining to Phase 3 development. This is due, in part, to the inclusion of Phase 3 lands in the Long Lake South Environmental Impact
Assessment, requisite levels of delineation being met on the Phase 3 lands, as well as McDaniels' confidence in the development of these lands now that Phase 1 is commercial.
The McDaniel evaluation of our lands recognizes the impact of upgrading on the resources. Most of the raw bitumen will be upgraded and sold as PSC(TM) and butane, and is shown as synthetic crude oil or butane reserves. Bitumen was sold prior to Upgrader start-up, is planned to be sold during periods of Upgrader downtime, and is shown as bitumen reserves.
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