Suncor Gets Green Light for Oil-Sands Expansion

The Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board approved Suncor Energy's application to develop three additional stages of its Firebag in situ oil sands project. Firebag stages four, five and six each have a planned production capacity of approximately 62,500 barrels per calendar day. Cost estimates for stages four to six are expected to be detailed as each stage receives final approval from Suncor's Board of Directors. Preliminary work is currently underway on Firebag stage four, with production targeted in late 2012.

The planned facilities will employ steam assisted gravity drainage technology, a thermal recovery process that allows development of deeper oil sands deposits while limiting surface land disturbance. Approved facilities include well pads, water treatment facilities and co-generation plants that produce steam while also generating electricity.

"Regulatory approval for further expansion of Firebag is an important milestone for Suncor," said Steve Williams, chief operating officer. "This expansion keeps us on target for continued production growth, while at the same time reducing the overall environmental intensity of the barrels we produce."

Consultation with stakeholders has been ongoing since the application was filed and planned Firebag facilities have been designed to support environmental performance targets:

  • Energy efficiency -- Natural gas fueled co-generation plants are expected to supply steam while producing electricity at a CO2 per megawatt/hour intensity lower than the current provincial average, contributing to the energy-efficiency of in-situ production facilities.
  • Air emissions -- A $400 million sulfur recovery plant, completed in late 2009, has been pre-built with capacity to contribute to sulfur emission abatement for all six Firebag stages.
  • Water use -- Once the facilities are at full capacity, water recycle rates are expected to exceed 90% with make-up volumes drawn primarily from process waste-water sourced from the company's existing facilities. As such, the regulatory applications did not include a request to increase the company's water withdrawal license. In-situ production does not require tailings ponds.

The first two stages of Firebag have been in operation since 2003 and 2005, respectively, with current combined production of approximately 60,000 bpd.

Stage three has a planned production capacity of approximately 62,500 barrels per calendar day, similar to stages four to six. The $3.6 billion project, which includes pre-built infrastructure for future stages, is under construction with first production targeted in mid-2011 and ramping up over the following 18 months.