​Canadian Natural planning test of autonomous oilsands heavy haulers

Image: Komatsu

The shift to a full fleet of autonomous oilsands heavy haulers is in the early stages for Suncor Energy north of Fort McMurray, and now another operator is starting testing just down the road.

Canadian Natural Resources is planning a “small, discreet” field pilot in 2019 using autonomous haulers at its oilsands mining operations, president Tim McKay said on Thursday.

Earlier this year Suncor announced it has embarked on a roll out of more than 150 autonomous haulers following a successful pilot test that began in 2015. The company has estimated the systems could reduce its operating costs by 5 to 10 percent.

While Canadian Natural is reviewing autonomous haulers as a potential opportunity to improve efficiency, McKay said its approach would be different than its competitor.

Suncor reported operating costs of $26.06/bbl for synthetic crude oil from its Base Plant in 2017, while Canadian Natural reported $21.46/bbl operating costs for Horizon SCO and $26.34/bbl for upgraded products from the Athabasca Oil Sands Project.

“Obviously with our cost metrics we have a different view on where and how [autonomous haulers] would be utilized, as well as we have our pilot of the in-pit extraction process where we are looking at trying to do stackable tailings, which could impact that decision in the future. We’re actually doing two different views of that to try to see how we can do things more efficiently, and that relates to both sites,” McKay said.

“With technology, whether it’s carbon sequestration or autonomous trucks, we’re doing bits and pieces all over the place trying to make our operation more efficient and effective.”

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