ERCB approves Suncor Firebag oil sands expansions

By OGJ editors
HOUSTON, Mar. 18 -- The Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board has approved Suncor Energy Inc.'s application for developing three additional stages in the in situ Firebag steam-assisted gravity project for recovering bitumen from the oil sands in the Athabasca region of Alberta.

Firebag Stages 4, 5, and 6 each will have about a 62,500 b/d production capacity. Suncor said that it has preliminary work currently underway on Firebag Stage 4, with production targeted for late 2012.

The approved facilities include well pads, water treatment facilities, and cogeneration plants that produce steam while also generating electricity.

Suncor said that it had designed the planned facilities to support environmental performance targets such as:
• Energy efficiency—It expects natural gas fueled cogeneration plants to supply steam while producing electricity at a CO2/Mw-hr intensity lower than the current provincial average, contributing to the energy-efficiency of the in situ production facilities.
• Air emissions—It has prebuilt a $400 million (Can.) sulfur recovery plant, completed in late 2009, with capacity to contribute to sulfur emission abatement for all six Firebag stages.
• Water use—It expects, once the facilities are at full capacity, water recycle rates to exceed 90% with make-up volumes drawn primarily from process wastewater sourced from the company's existing facilities. As such, it did not include in the regulatory applications a request to increase the company's water withdrawal license. In situ production also does not require tailings ponds.

The first two stages of Firebag, in operation since 2003 and 2005, currently produce about 60,000 b/d of bitumen.

The company has under construction the $3.6 billion (Can.) Firebag Stage 3, which has a planned 62,500 b/d production capacity similar to Stages 4-6.

Suncor said Stage 3 includes prebuilt infrastructure for future stages and has a mid-2011 target for first production and a ramp up phase over the following 18 months.

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