Sept/Oct 2009

Change is in the air

Syncrude Canada has its eye on the sky with two environmental initiatives

By P. Caulfield


Syncrude staff are engaged on a year-round basis to observe areas of open water and ensure bird deterrents are in place.

Among the scores of environmental initiatives being implemented by Syncrude Canada are two creative measures designed to keep the air clean and the birds in good health.

At the Mildred Lake upgrader, Syncrude has been rolling out a measure that promises to change the very air — the sulphur dioxide emissions reduction project (SERP).

Syncrude has three carbon-cracking cokers at the Mildred Lake upgrader, which process bitumen from the Mildred Lake and Aurora mines. SERP involves retrofitting a three-train flue gas scrubbing system into the operation of the two oldest and original Mildred Lake cokers, which were built in the late 1970s. The program, which was started in 2006, is expected to reduce emissions of sulphur compounds to an annual average of less than 100 tonnes per day when it is completed in 2011.

Coker 8-3, the third coker at Mildred Lake, is outfitted with a flue gas desulphurizer, a new type of environmental unit that eliminates SO2 emissions. It went into production in 2006. Environmentally friendly technology at all three cokers is expected to reduce stack emissions of sulphur compounds by 60 per cent from the current approved levels of 245 tonnes per day. In addition, emissions of particulate matter should be reduced significantly.

Cheryl Robb, Syncrude media relations advisor, says the retrofitting of SO2 reduction technology at the two cokers will cost $1.6 billion. “It is very expensive, difficult and time-consuming work because the site is already developed,” Robb says. “Large, bulky equipment has to be moved up and over other buildings on the site. To do so, we are using one of the largest cranes in the world for the job.”

In addition to the SO2 reduction project, Robb says that one dollar out of every four spent on the upgrader expansion went towards new environmental technology. “We are always looking for ways to minimize our impact on the environment while continuing to offer economic benefits,” Robb says. “The quality of our air at Mildred Lake is already good and we want to keep it that way.”

Syncrude is also expanding its already-comprehensive waterfowl protection program with additional resources and revised protocols. The objective is to strongly discourage fine feathered friends from setting down on tailing ponds areas, where they can come to possible harm.

In addition to keeping a deterrent system in place all year, Syncrude deploys 190 shore-based sound cannons at all tailings settling basins and areas of open water. Scarecrows and effigies are also fitted with reflectors and placed in open water to deter waterfowl from landing. A number of staff, including a field wildlife advisor, is engaged year-round to observe areas of open water and ensure bird deterrents are in place.

Syncrude has also purchased a radar-based migration monitoring system that will assist the company in its ongoing research into migration patterns. The pilot project will enable the company to analyze migration trends and adjust its deterrent system to ensure the best protection measures are in place. This system is already in operation at some of North America’s largest airports.

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