Less than a week after two of Canada’s top five tar sands/oil sands producers announced they were cutting back production due to the low price their bitumen fetches on world markets, ExxonMobil subsidiary Imperial Oil announced a C$2.6-billion project destined to increase the supply glut.
The Aspen project in northern Alberta will start out with capacity of 75,000 barrels per day, with the potential to grow to 150,000 barrels per day, Reuters reports. Imperial plans to start construction this fall and begin operating the plant in 2022.
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“We do not take investment decisions lightly, particularly in these challenging times,” said Imperial CEO Rich Kruger in a prepared statement. “This is the right technology at the right time to make a competitive investment.”
Kruger added that launching a new project when other fossils are avoiding new construction would save the company money. “It’s a bit countercyclical in that there’s not a lot of investment in construction going on,” he told media. “So if you want the highest performance from contractors and tradesmen and safety and productivity, it’s a good time to build.”
Imperial claims the new project “will use new recovery technology to lower emissions and water use and improve project economics,” Reuters states. “It will use solvent-assisted oilsands recovery technology designed to lower the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions and water use,” The Canadian Press explains. “Imperial says the technology is estimated to reduce the intensity and water use by up to 25%, compared with traditional SAGD [Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage].”
Imperial’s announcement “comes in stark contrast to moves by Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips to sell oil sands assets, and by locals like Cenovus Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. that are curtailing production to weather rock-bottom prices,” Bloomberg reports.
But “part of Imperial’s confidence comes from being able to work around the pipeline bottleneck that has sent prices so low,” the news agency adds. “Imperial is looking at ways to process more heavy crude at its refineries and could place some of the new production in Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3, the one export pipeline that’s under construction and scheduled to be completed late next year. Imperial also owns a crude loading terminal near Edmonton with the capacity to load 210,000 barrels a day that could be utilized to ship out crude oil.”
The announcement won’t likely sit well with Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) President Tim McKay, who was already criticizing rival fossils for taking “windfall revenues” while interfering with efficient operation of the available pipeline space out of Alberta.
CNRL, Cenovus, and MEG Energy “have all announced production cuts to avoid selling at least some barrels of bitumen in the current low price environment that they hope will begin to recover sometime next year,” CP reported November 2. “Other producers, including Suncor Energy Inc. and Husky Energy Inc., say their upgrading and refining capacity and firm access to pipelines mean they can continue to produce at capacity.”
McKay focused his wrath on “the inability of the industry’s Crude Oil Logistics Committee, which represents producers, refiners, shippers, pipeline owners, and regulators, to make crude oil pipeline traffic decisions, to adjust rules to optimize the process of assigning pipeline space to members,” the news agency added.
“Clearly some parties, who capture windfall revenues at the expense of Alberta citizens and Alberta producers, are determined to continue to capture windfall revenues,” McKay told an investors’ call.