​Fort Hills-produced oil named for its lower-carbon quality

Suncor Energy CEO Steve Williams speaks at the official opening of the Fort Hills project in September 2018. Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

The name that has been chosen for the oil coming from the Fort Hills oilsands mine reflects its lower environmental footprint.

It’s called Fort Hills Reduced Carbon Life Cycle Dilbit Blend (FRB), according to project partner Teck Resources.

Through a process called paraffinic froth treatment, Fort Hills generates a crude oil stream that does not have to go through energy-intensive upgrading in order to be sold to refineries. As a result, production from the project is reported to have GHG emissions that are on par with the average refined barrel in the United States.

Suncor Energy chief operating officer Mark Little describes Fort Hills’ paraffinic froth treatment as “a different kind of finishing step.”

“Basically what we do at Fort Hills that we don’t do at any of our other mines is we literally cut off about 10 percent of the barrel. The 10 percent that we cut off has the most carbon in it, so we put that carbon back in the ground,” Little told Suncor’s 2018 annual general meeting.

“It’s kind of like accelerated carbon sequestration. It’s much easier to do it when it’s still in a liquid form versus creating a greenhouse gas and then trying to capture it and put it back in the ground. So we cut it off, put it back in the ground, and then the barrel that we ship to market is a much better quality barrel.”

Paraffinic froth treatment has been in commercial use since Shell started up the Athabasca Oil Sands Project in 2002. It was also incorporated into the AOSP Jackpine expansion in 2010 as well as at both operating phases of Imperial Oil’s Kearl mine, which started in 2013 and 2015, respectively. The new owner of the AOSP, Canadian Natural Resources, has announced it is now developing a 35,000 bbl/d PFT expansion at its Horizon mine.

Since its January startup, Fort Hills has exceed expectations for both production volumes and product quality, Teck said. The plant ran at its full 194,000 bbl/d nameplate capacity during a two-day production test in September, the company said.

Suncor expects the facility to run at full capacity through the fourth quarter.

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