Photo: Imperial Oil

Top Projects 2015: Kearl Phase 2

Industrial—Over $50 Million

The second phase of Kearl oilsands mine began production five months earlier than scheduled, with all the froth trains operational in June 2015. Production from the $9-billion expansion project will ultimately reach 110,000 barrels per day, bringing total production from Kearl up to 220,000 barrels per day.

Owned 71 per cent by Imperial Oil and 29 per cent by ExxonMobil Canada, the construction of the Kearl expansion project involved 33 million work hours and employed a peak workforce of more than 5,000 people.

Amec Foster Wheeler served as the prime contractor on Kearl. Fluor provided construction management support for the duration of the project as well as engineering, procurement and construction for the infrastructure and offlease facilities.

With lessons learned from phase one of the Kearl oilsands mine, the project captured efficiencies. The owners attribute the early completion to ExxonMobil’s expertise in project planning and execution as well as strong relationships with Alberta-based contractors. Imperial’s “design-one/build-multiple” approach also helped by reducing contractor work hours by 30 per cent from 34 million on the Kearl initial development to 24 million on the expansion. Construction months were reduced from 36 months during the initial development to 28 months during the expansion project.

Key features of the expansion execution include the same facility design, the same major contractors and all of the full-sized modules being built in Edmonton. During the execution of the Kearl expansion, the team achieved a three-fold improvement in safety performance. For the initial development, it took 23 months to get all three trains at their sustained capacity of 150,000 barrels a day; on the expansion project, that feat was achieved in 20 days.

Touted as the “next generation” of oilsands mining, Imperial’s proprietary paraffinic froth treatment process eliminates the need for on site upgrading, lowering the operation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Diluted bitumen produced at Kearl has a greenhouse gas footprint comparable to the average crude refined in the United States. Electrical cogeneration technology also reduces energy consumption.

Paraffinic froth treatment removes the heaviest components of the hydrocarbon molecules, called asphaltenes, yielding a lighter grade of bitumen that can be diluted and shipped by pipeline. The other existing oilsands mines must upgrade bitumen on site to produce a synthetic crude, allowing it to be shipped by pipeline.

On-site water storage to eliminate withdrawals from the Athabasca River in low-flow periods, progressive land and tailings reclamation, and a state-of-the-art waterfowl deterrent system are just a few of the other innovations that will enhance environmental performance.

The project also injected cash into Canada’s economy. Imperial reported that of the project’s approximately $9-billion investment, 90 per cent was spent with Canadian companies based in Alberta. Almost $500 million was directed to local suppliers and contractors in the Wood Buffalo region, of which about 25 per cent are Aboriginal owned and operated.


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