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Sturgeon Refinery facing more delays after tests, won’t process bitumen until early 2020

An oil worker holds raw sand bitumen near Fort McMurray, on July 9, 2008.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh.
An oil worker holds raw sand bitumen near Fort McMurray, on July 9, 2008.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh.

A new refinery northeast of Edmonton is facing more delays and won’t begin processing oilsands bitumen as designed until early next year.

Construction was completed on the $9.5-billion Sturgeon Refinery in the fall of 2017 and it began producing diesel shortly thereafter from synthetic crude that had already been partly upgraded at an Alberta oilsands mine.

It was to begin processing oilsands bitumen in early 2018 but has been stymied by issues with equipment including its gasifier, a unit designed to break down the heavier parts of the bitumen barrel to make hydrogen for the refining process and carbon dioxide for use in stimulating conventional oil and gas wells.

READ MORE: Sturgeon Refinery won’t be running until end of 2018, adding to Alberta heavy oil price discount woes

Spokeswoman Vanessa Goodman says the refinery has been running tests on a repaired gasifier unit during the current refinery maintenance shutdown that began in September.

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However, while the tests showed the unit works, the refinery plans to continue to process synthetic crude when it restarts next month, with bitumen processing expected to follow early in 2020.

The refinery is a joint venture of North West Refining and oilsands producer Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., which is to provide 25 per cent of its bitumen feedstock. The rest is to come from the Alberta government-owned Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission.

READ MORE: Report finds Alberta’s North West Redwater Sturgeon Refinery’s prospects of making money are bleak

“We were able to collect data to determine if any additional improvements need to be made (to the gasifier),” said Goodman.

“There will be another test period early in 2020.”

Goodman says the refinery was producing about 35,000 barrels per day of diesel before the shutdown began.

WATCH BELOW: (December 2017) Diesel fuel is now flowing from Canada’s first new refinery in more than 30 years. Fletcher Kent reports on the milestone and on what’s ahead for the Sturgeon Refinery.

Alberta refinery hits milestone with first diesel production
Alberta refinery hits milestone with first diesel production