Much has been written about the "Alberta Advantage" and the expectation that 3 million barrels of hydrocarbon product (anything from raw bitumen to light synthetic crude oil, but excluding natural gas) will be produced daily from the oilsands by 2015. About one-third of that amount is currently being produced. So what - fairly and reasonably - might be the Top 10 Events expected to occur in 2008 that will provide the major strides toward the achievement of new production levels?
1. Canadian Natural Resources - Horizon Oil Sands Project - Phase 1
By December, 2007 this project (mining - extraction - upgrading) approached 90% completion, with commissioning and start-up and then "first oil" anticipated in Q3 2008. Full production capacity of 110,000 barrels per day will not be achieved before 2009 at the earliest.
2. OPTI/Nexen - Long Lake Phase 1
While suffering some delay and cost overruns in 2007 (which has unfortunately been an all-too-common oilsands phenomenon), this steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) extraction and upgrading project should come on-stream by mid-year. Nexen is currently "steaming" a majority of its wells and OPTI's "Orcrude" gasification, hydrocracker and utilities units are built. Because it is using new technology, achievement of the 60,000 barrels per day capacity will likely take some time. If OPTI is successful in using the "heavy upgrader bottoms" as a fuel source in lieu of natural gas, this project could well set a new paradigm in the industry.
3. Petro-Canada/UTS Energy/Teck Cominco - Fort Hills
Front-end engineering and design of this 190,000 barrel per day initiative is well underway. By late 2008 (Q4), the partners will be far enough along in their planning that a final investment decision (and authorization to spend the necessary billions of dollars) will likely be made.
4. Suncor Energy - Upgrader 2 Expansion
Construction is reaching 80% completion on this 100,000 barrel per day expansion in upgrading capacity. Commissioning and start-up will begin in 2008, while achievement of "name plate" capacity will only occur next year.
5. Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil - Kearl Lake Phase 1
While this 100,000 barrel per day mining and extraction initiative (no upgrading is currently proposed) has already received regulatory approval, an evaluation of the costs associated with that approval is ongoing. Preliminary engineering continues and a commercial decision as to whether (and if so how) to proceed is expected this year.
6. Total E&P Canada/Enerplus Resources - Deer Creek/Joslyn
While new to the oilsands, Total is providing every indication that oilsands are an integral part of the "Total Strategy". The project is currently "staffing up". The design basis memorandum (DBM) for a 100,000 barrel per day mining and bitumen extraction facility is currently being settled. The hearing for regulatory approval of the project begins in the spring of 2008 and approval is anticipated by year end.
7. EnCana/ConocoPhillips - Foster Creek and Christina Lake Expansions
This 50-50 partnership of heavyweights uses SAGD to bring bitumen to the surface, before the pipelining of bitumen for further processing to one of two ConocoPhillips refineries in the United States. The SAGD capacity expansion (mainly at Foster Creek) has now been completed, resulting in an expected incremental increase in combined production to 60,000 barrels per day from the two sites, once the optimum results of steaming are achieved by late 2008 or early 2009.
8. Petro-Canada-Strathcona (Edmonton) Refinery
Construction has reached approximately the half way point in the conversion of Petro-Canada's refinery so that, instead of crude oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, it will be possible to process light, synthetic crude oil (the product of the upgrading of bitumen) into the end-use products on which Canadians depend (gasoline, jet fuel, kerosene, etc). By year end, re-fit (construction) at the Strathcona Refinery should be complete and commissioning and start-up of this 135,000 barrel per day refinery will be underway.
9. Husky Energy - Sunrise Phase 1
By late 2007, Husky was nearing completion of front end engineering and design (FEED) for its "in situ" extraction of what will eventually be 60,000 barrels of bitumen per day. Regulatory approval of what is understood to be the SAGD of the resource has already been received and, upon completion of FEED, an investment decision by Husky is expected.
10. Devon Canada - Jackfish Phase 1
Construction of this 35,000 barrel per day SAGD bitumen extraction facility is essentially complete to the point that steam injection has begun. Warming of the "goo" will take some time, but initial extraction trending toward 35,000 barrels per day will ramp up in 2008.
Optimism is currently running high among oilsands operators. Given the foregoing, it is easy to understand why.