Imperial Oil plans to expand Cold Lake operations

Published in 2012 edition of ‘Our Natural Resources’ – special supplement to Athabasca Advocate, Bonnyville Nouvelle, Elk Point Review, Lac La Biche Post, Lakeland Regional and St. Paul Journal.

Imperial Oil Ltd. has announced plans to expand its stake in Alberta’s oilsands through the Nabiye Project at a cost of $2 billion, which will create around 1,000 jobs and produce an extra 40,000 barrels of oil per day, according to company spokesman Pius Rolheiser.

Nabiye, which is a Dene word meaning “otter,” is located at Imperial’s Cold Lake operation and received regulatory approval in 2004, but was put aside only to be reinitiated in 2008.

“We didn’t immediately move to build it. There was some other work we wanted to do with our existing Cold Lake operations,” Rolheiser explained. “There was a lot of work that we were doing to optimize production and operations from our existing facilities, but we always saw Nabiye as a very promising
project.”

In 2009, three amendments were made to the original approval to improve the environmental side of the project. The amendments involve the inclusion of an electrical cogeneration plant, modification to the design of well pads, which reduce the amount of surface area while still developing the same underground resource, and the inclusion of sulphur recovery facilities to help lower sulphur dioxide.

“All three of those amendments were made possible by advances in technology,” he said. “All of our existing plants at Cold Lake, the large central plans, they do two things: they generate stream, which is injected underground, and they also process the bitumen. The bitumen is separated and ultimately blended with a lighter hydrocarbon for shipment by pipeline.”

Rolheiser likened the Nabiye project to the existing Mahkeses project, which has been in operation since 2002, and also contains an electrical cogeneration facility.

“The benefit of electrical cogeneration is that it’s more energy efficient than generating steam and electricity separately,” he said. “That’s where you see a reduction in the energy consumption and a reduction in the overall greenhouse gas emissions.”

Though a formal decision to fully proceed with the project has yet to be made public, Rolheiser said Imperial has started advancing development work on the site and that major construction wouldn’t begin till later this year.

“Last year and the year before we did some preliminary site work,” he explained. “We have the preliminary grading and site preparation for the plant site. We also built the access road to the plant site. There’s been a considerable amount of field work that’s already been done.”

“We believe that the project we’re building today is a better project than what was approved in 2004,” he added. “Imperial’s Cold Lake operation is very, very important to us. Cold Lake is our richest producing asset and accounts for well over half of our daily liquids production.”