Suncor Project Voyageur, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Suncor Energy Services Inc (formerly Great Canadian Oil Sands) has been involved in oil sands bitumen recovery and upgrading for crude oil production since 1967 and in 2006 produced its billionth barrel of oil.

Project Voyageur is the centrepiece of the Suncor growth strategy. This is a multi-phase plan to increase its oil sands production to more than 550,000 barrels a day by 2016, a 120% rise on 2004's production.

Suncor submitted a regulatory application for Project Voyageur in March 2005, which focused on constructing a third upgrader south-west of the original facility.

Suncor's growth strategy includes a strong focus on 'Firebag' in-situ oil sands technology, with its smaller footprint on land and an ability to access reserves not economically recoverable through conventional mining.

The Voyageur goals were set out by the company in 2001. As part of the project a vacuum unit was added to the Suncor number two upgrader (started in 2002 and completed in late 2005), which cost $425m and increased output by 35,000bpd.

The Voyageur upgrader project was put on hold in October 2008 due to the global economic downturn. In March 2011, Total E&P Canada acquired a 49% stake in the project and became a strategic partner with Suncor Energy. The project development will restart in 2011 and is expected to come onstream in 2016.

Cleaner energy resources development

"Project Voyageur is expected to come onstream in 2016."

The recovery of crude oil from oil sands developments is a process that releases more carbon dioxide into the environment than conventional oil production, and Suncor has developed a strategy to offset carbon dioxide produced by the development of cleaner energy resources.

Suncor is a partner in two wind farms – the Magrath wind power project in southern Alberta, and the SunBridge project in Saskatchewan.

Together, the projects can generate enough clean electricity to offset 115,000t of carbon dioxide annually. As the wind power market continues to develop, Suncor aims to build a new wind farm every 12-18 months.

Suncor also began selling ethanol-blended petrol at 500 Sunoco retail stations in 1996 as a cleaner-burning, renewable resource that reduces emissions. Suncor's $120m ethanol plant construction in Sarnia, Ontario's St Clair Township at Lambton county, began in June 2005. It produces 200 million litres of ethanol per year.

The federal government has approved $22m for the construction of the ethanol plant as part of the Canadian Government's ethanol expansion programme. The plant has provided around 350 local jobs during its construction phase and 15 new jobs to operate the expanded plant.

The $120m ethanol plant located in the province of Lambton County was officially inaugurated on 31 August 2009. The blending of 10% ethanol into petrol at the St Clair plant has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 300,000t.

In October 2009, Suncor began the expansion of the St Clair ethanol plant. The C$120m expansion was completed in March 2011, doubling the plant's ethanol production capacity from 200 million litres a year to 400 million litres.

Development of Suncor Project Voyageur

Construction for the next phase of oil sands growth as part of the Voyageur Project will start in 2011. The expansion includes a new pair of coke drums – the largest ever built (using Conoco Philips ThruPlus delayed coking technology) – and a sulphur recovery plant (total cost of $1bn).

Suncor's Firebag in-situ operations are located 40km north-west of the original oil sands plant and will form a key part of the increased bitumen supply to the upgraders as the project progresses. The in-situ plant was inaugurated at the end of 2009. An additional stage of the Firebag in situ oil sands project is expected to be completed by late 2012.

Key elements of the Voyageur Project are the construction of a third oil sands upgrader in Fort McMurray, the expansion of bitumen supply, and the continuation of third-party bitumen supplies.

"A key element of the Voyageur Project is the construction of a third oil sands upgrader."

Plans call for the new upgrader to be constructed 0.5km south-west of the Suncor upgrader facilities near the North Steepbank extension and the Millenium mines.

The new facility will include cokers, hydrotreaters, synthetic gas production, product storage tanks, utilities, administration and a 50km hot bitumen pipeline to connect the upgrader with the Suncor in-situ operations. Preparations began on the site but construction was not allowed to start until the project was approved.

Construction began in March 2007 following final approval (with certain conditions) granted at a hearing of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) in January 2007.

The upgrader was designed to produce light crude oil and production from the new facility with the full capacity of approximately 550,000bpd targeted for 2016. It is estimated that constructing the upgrader will cost C$20.6bn (US$20.3bn). The project will resume after updating the front-end engineering design.

Suncor has also identified the need for additional pipeline capacity from Fort McMurray to Edmonton and the company is pursuing various options to accommodate the additional volumes. Construction of the upgrader will employ approximately 4,000 workers, and 300 new permanent jobs at Suncor's oil sands facility are expected to be created when the upgrader is in full operation.

Suncor also intends to build and operate a petroleum coke gasifier that will reduce the company's reliance on natural gas. The gasifier is planned to process about 20% of the proposed upgrader's petroleum coke (a byproduct of the upgrading process) into synthetic gas. The synthetic gas will then be used to supply hydrogen and fuel. The gasifier will add an estimated $600m to the total cost of this project.

Bitumen reserves

Suncor's Steepbank and Millennium mines currently produce 263,000bpd and its Firebag in situ project produces 35,000bpd. The company intends to spend $3.2bn in expanding its mining operations to 400,000bpd and its in-situ production to 140,000bpd by 2008. An estimate of the recoverable oil resources on Suncor leases is nine billion barrels of crude oil.

"Project Voyageur will produce 200,000bpd of upgraded products by 2016."

At current rates of production, the Athabasca oil sands reserves could last over 400 years. New in-situ methods have been developed to extract bitumen from deep deposits by injecting steam to heat the sands and reduce the bitumen viscosity so that it can be pumped out like conventional crude oil.

Also, the use of light hydrocarbon injection to decrease the viscosity of the bitumen is being investigated, which would use much less gas because less steam would be required for recovery. The standard extraction process usually requires huge amounts of natural gas.

Suncor is offsetting the gas demands of its expanded extraction operations by building a new petroleum coke gasifier.

Suncor's in-situ plans will use recycled water in a closed system for steam generation. No additional surface or ground water will be required and no tailings ponds will be created. In situ is expected to disturb only about 10% of the surface land in the development area (the recovery of material using this method is much less than other conventional methods).

Project Voyageur contractors

In June 2008, Jacobs Engineering was awarded a contract by Suncor Energy to provide detailed engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) services for the sulphur complex of Suncor Energy's Voyageur Upgrader near Fort McMurray.

The complex includes two sour water strippers, an amine unit, three sulphur recovery trains and an option for a third train, sulphur degassing, an LT SCOT tail gas treating unit and a sulphur truck-loading terminal.

In addition, a Canadian subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering carried out a piping project involving 750,000 hours of field labour. The work consisted of a planning phase, followed by the fabrication and installation of the required tie-ins and interconnecting piping.

A total of 650 tie-in points and the associated interconnecting piping were required to connect Plant 52 into the new Millennium coker unit facility. Construction was completed in March 2007.

Suncor awarded UOP a contract for the licensing and design of two new hydrotreating units. The new Unionfining units are designed to upgrade delayed coking unit products. One will process distillate feedstock and another will process gas oil range feedstock.

Emerson Process Management signed a seven-year deal to supply automation products and services for Suncor during the course of the Voyageur project.

Suncor Voyageur Village

The Suncor Voyageur Village (designed by SHB Architects) construction management contract was awarded to EllisDon in June 2007. Supermetal Structures was contracted for site erection.

"Suncor produced its billionth barrel of oil in 2006."

The C$153m project will consist of an administration building and other support buildings on site, 20km north of Fort McMurray.

The project will consist of an administration building (286,000ft²) housed in eight storeys, a 22,000ft² firehall and medical building, a 50,000ft² special service building and a 30,000ft² maintenance building.

The project also comprises a reception, control rooms, testing laboratories, equipment laboratories, employee amenities, staff locker / change rooms, food services, cafeteria, and dining rooms, emergency and fire services, maintenance shops, offices, class rooms, meeting rooms, plant security, special services security, and a permitting centre.

Lockerbie & Hole was contracted for water and wastewater treatment plants at the Voyageur Village. The value of the contract is C$30m.

Site development will also include a 400,000ft² parking area and a 10,000ft² patio. Construction began in July 2007 and is scheduled for completion in 2010.