Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

CNRL project to "cut emissions"

CNRL project to cut emissions
CALGARY— From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, May. 17, 2011 7:12PM EDT

Canada’s oil sands companies are dramatically expanding an effort to link arms on efforts to reduce the environmental impact of the oil sands.

Last December, the industry’s biggest players announced a deal to collaborate on technology to clean up the toxic effluent, or tailings, produced by those who mine the oil sands. Those involved included Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, Suncor Energy Inc., Syncrude Canada Ltd., Teck Resources and Total E&P Canada.

Now, industry is working to substantially increase that effort by sharing confidential research and techniques on other tricky environmental issues.

The major oil sands producers are working on a deal to collaborate “on issues of water, air emissions, land reclamation,” Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNQ-T40.88----%) vice-chairman Murray Edwards said Tuesday at the company’s annual investor day.

The plan will be rolled out in coming months, he said.

The new collaboration effort comes as CNRL sheds new light on a technology that demonstrates some of the gains industry is making. The company is testing a system that will allow it to bury substantial carbon emissions alongside the toxic effluent from its oil sands operations. Using a substance developed by DuPont, CNRL believes it can lock up 10 to 15 per cent of the total CO2 output from its Horizon oil sands mine inside the tailings. That’s 10 times more than previous technologies.

Though it’s still a pilot project, CNRL is already discussing new facilities it can build to grab carbon from some of its air emissions, in hopes of burying it with the tailings.

The technology allows the company to solidify its tailings so quickly that the effluent water is still warm when it is recycled back into operations, allowing CNRL to save on reheating costs, though company president Steve Laut cautioned that he doesn’t know “if the economics are that great.”

Any potential gains come as CNRL works to bring Horizon back into operation after a devastating January fire. Of the $350-million to $450-million in repair costs, more than half was “collateral damage” that came in part from ice created by firefighting efforts. Mr. Laut told reporters the fire was caused by a series of system and operator errors.

CNRL has reviewed a number of its safety and operating protocols to avoid a similar accident in future.

Longer-term, the company is also developing new strategies to avoid an oil sands inflation bubble that many warn is just around the corner. CNRL has decided to halt major construction work between Dec. 15 and Feb. 1, a period where both cold weather and the holidays often serve to damage productivity.


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