Suncor, Teck increase Fort Hills oilsands stakes, ramp-up schedule maintained despite slower start up

Suncor Energy CEO Steve Williams. Image: Suncor Energy

A commercial dispute between the owners of the new Fort Hills oilsands mining project has been resolved with an adjustment to the joint venture structure.

Meanwhile, the schedule for ramp up to 90 percent of capacity by the end of 2018 is being maintained although the plant is not yet 100 percent operational.

Project lead Suncor Energy announced on Wednesday that it has increased its share in Fort Hills to 53.06 percent from 50.8 percent, while Teck has increased its ownership stake to 20.89 percent from 20.0 percent. Total has in turn decreased its ownership share to 26.05 percent from 29.2 percent.

Suncor reported in July 2017 that France-based Total had decided not to provide additional funding to support an increase in the project’s capital cost to $17 billion from $15.1 billion. Under the new agreement, Suncor and Teck have funded an increased share of the project capital, in the amounts of approximately $300 million and $120 million respectively, which Suncor said may be further adjusted in accordance with the terms of the deal.

"We're pleased to have reached this agreement and taken a bigger stake in what is arguably the best long-term growth project in our industry," Suncor CEO Steve Williams said in a statement.

The company has not yet announced commercial first oil from Fort Hills, which was expected before the end of 2017. The project is approximately 80 percent operational, Suncor said on Wednesday, and has completed five test runs of the plant, producing 1.4 million barrels of bitumen froth.

The remaining piece to be completed is the secondary extraction unit, which is also the subject of a statement of claim the Fort Hills partners filed in October against suppliers Jotun A/S, Chokwang Jotun Ltd. and Yong Hyun P&P Co. related to deficiencies in fireproof coating. Suncor said in its statement of claim that it has taken a number of steps to remedy the issue.

In secondary extraction, Suncor explains on its website that bitumen froth from primary extraction is mixed with solvents to remove heavier portions and then prepared for shipping.

This week Suncor said that all three secondary extraction trains are mechanically complete with the first train in its final commissioning stage and expected to start up in mid-January. The second and third trains are currently being insulated and expected to start up in the first half of 2018, as planned, the company said, with Fort Hills on track to reach 90 percent of its 194,000 bbl/d capacity by the end of 2018.