Alberta regulator sets steam restriction at CNRL oil sands project
By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The Alberta Energy Regulator said on Monday it is implementing additional requirements at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd's (CNQ.TO: Quote) Primrose oil sands project after concluding excessive steaming caused a 6,648-barrel bitumen emulsion leak in 2013.
The requirements include permanent limits on the steam volumes the company is allowed to use to extract bitumen from underground reservoirs and a requirement that CNRL seek approval for each steaming cycle at its Primrose East site.
"The restrictions do amount to a permanent ongoing reduction in the intensity of the company's operations. The company will not be able to pursue its original operating strategy at Primrose," said Kirk Bailey, executive vice president of operations at the AER.
CNRL has been operating under steam restrictions at Primrose since the seepage was discovered.
Bitumen emulsion - a mixture of bitumen, sand and water - was discovered oozing to the surface at two locations at CNRL's Primrose project in northern Alberta in May 2013. Two more leaks were discovered over the next month, prompting the AER to impose restrictions on the site and launch an investigation.
In July 2013, company President Steve Laut said the project was producing about 10,000 barrels per day (bpd) less than previously expected as a result.
Bitumen seepage to the surface as a result of oil sands operations is not permitted under Alberta energy regulations. A number of animals died as a result of the leak, which continued for months, including birds, mammals and amphibians.
The investigation, described by Bailey as one of the most complicated ever undertaken by the AER, concluded the seepages were caused by excessive steam volumes along open conduits such as wellbores, natural fractures and faults and hydraulically-induced fractures. Continued...