​Full test of repaired, redesigned Sturgeon Refinery gasifier to begin this month

Image: North West Redwater Partnership

Operators at the Sturgeon Refinery are preparing for a full test of the critical unit that has delayed commercial operations by more than a year.

“Multiple issues” occurred during the commissioning phase of the refinery’s gasifier, which processes the heaviest portion of the bitumen barrel into hydrogen for the refining process and produce pure CO2 to be captured for enhanced oil recovery.

This included shorter than expected lifespan of the unit’s reactor burners and stress cracking in portions of the stainless steel piping and welds, project owners Canadian Natural Resources and North West Refining said in May.

Repair work on those stress cracks has now been successfully completed and redesigned burners are being installed, the project said in a statement on Friday. A full test run on the gasifier is expected to begin this month.

“To coincide with this test run, we are also planning a fall shutdown to complete routine maintenance, inspections and repairs on the units that have been functioning and producing diesel since late 2017. This shut down will see an additional ~700 local contractors on site at peak including day and night shift,” said North West Redwater Partnership spokeswoman Vanessa Goodman.

“Once the gasifier test run and the refinery shutdown are complete later this fall, our best estimate remains that we will be running bitumen through the refinery by the end of this year. “

This assumes that any additional unexpected challenges are overcome without causing further delays, she said.

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