UPDATE 1-Canadian Oil Sands working to fix Syncrude reliability issues

Wed Apr 30, 2014 7:32pm EDT
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(Adds CEO comments on Syncrude coker outages, reliability issues)

By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta, April 30 (Reuters) - Solving reliability issues at the Syncrude mining project in northern Alberta will be more of a marathon than a sprint, the chief executive of Canadian Oil Sands Ltd said on Wednesday, in the wake of another unplanned coker outage.

The Syncrude project can in theory produce about 350,000 barrels per day but has a history of unplanned shutdowns due to equipment malfunctions, particularly at its complex upgraders, which convert tar-like bitumen stripped from the oil sands into refinery-ready synthetic crude.

Last week Syncrude shut one of its two upgraders for unplanned maintenance following a valve leak repair. Canadian Oil Sands, which owns the largest stake in the project, was forced to lower the annual production forecast to between 95 and 105 million barrels and shares in the company promptly dropped around 6 percent.

Speaking after the company's annual general meeting, Canadian Oil Sands Chief Executive Officer Ryan Kubik said Syncrude had no more reliability problems than other oil sands mining companies, but it was one of the issues management was focused on.

He said the expertise of Imperial Oil, which owns a 25 percent stake in Syncrude, and Imperial's majority owner ExxonMobil Corp would help improve reliability at the project but progress would take time.

"The methodical approach that Imperial and Exxon are bringing in will really help us attack that. It's a bit of a marathon as opposed to a sprint but long-term we think that's the right strategy and we are starting to see some results," Kubik said.

Coker 8-1, which was shut down on April 24, will be out of action for approximately 30 days although the outage could last longer as it will overlap with the planned shutdown on Coker 8-2. Kubik said that had been factored into production guidance.   Continued...