One of the visits we made on the trip was to Canadian Natural Resources’ (CNRL) Horizon Oil Sands Project. The project consists of surface oil sands mining, a bitumen extraction plant, and on-site bitumen upgrading that includes coking and hydrotreating operations. The product is sweet synthetic crude oil (SCO), as well as diesel, naphtha, and petroleum coke.
The process for producing bitumen via surface mining was covered in detail in last week’s article. To review, the process consists of:
- Removal of the overburden (timber and 30-40 meters of peat, clay, and sand)
- Digging up the bitumen-laden ore and transporting it to the processing facility
- Mixing the ore with hot water to separate the bitumen from the sand
- Transporting the remaining sand and residual bitumen to the tailings ponds for further settling
- Upgrading the bitumen into synthetic crude oil (this is optional, but CNRL does upgrade at Horizon)
My general observations were that this is an operation of enormous magnitude. The open pits were huge, as were the trucks to transport the ore. The trucks did kick up quite a bit of dust as they drove past my group at a frequent pace. Other than the dust, there wasn’t much smell unless you stood directly downwind of the ore processing facility.