Syngas used instead of natural gas in Alberta’s oil sands

Just when huge reserves of natural gas are being discovered in North America another new method of producing oil from the oil sands has started production in Alberta. And it does not rely on natural gas. T. Boone Pickens has it right when he says that trucks in America should be fueled by natural gas. There should be a lot of gas available.

CALGARY – Nexen Inc. and OPTI Canada’s $6.1-billion technological gamble appears to be paying off as first production of sweet synthetic crude flowed from the partners’ Long Lake oilsands facility this week….

“It’s still early days but the positive is it’s producing syngas, which is key because that’s what is going to significantly reduce the projects needed to consume natural gas,” said Philip Skolnick with Genuity Capital.

“The point is you’re taking the portion of the barrel which you get no value out of anyway, and you’re creating value out of it. This could absolutely change the way things are done in the oilsands.”

Thermal oilsands projects use a massive amount of natural gas to generate steam, which is piped into the earth to soften up bitumen and enable it to flow through secondary wells back up to the surface.

The technology being pioneered at Long Lake would reduce the need to buy the fuel by running somewhat of a closed loop system.

Briefly, bitumen is steamed out of the earth, then processed to separate out the sand and water, as other steam assisted gravity drainage projects, then the water gets recycled back into steam.

Where Long Lake gets interesting is that the diluted bitumen then gets partially upgraded, and those products get further upgraded through a hydrocracker into light synthetic crude with low sulphur content, with the asphalt-like bits turned into synthetic gas. The gas is subsequently burned to produce the steam to produce the bitumen, and as a source of hydrogen for the hydrocracker that produces the synthetic crude. Source.

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