Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

No Nukes: Petro-Canada CEO not sure of nuclear option for oil sands

June 5, 2007

  petro-canada.jpeg  There’s no shortage of talk in Alberta about the potential for nuclear energy to fuel the oil sands rush, especially as a private company run by two high-powered Calgary businessmen makes a big sales pitch on the idea.
    Petro-Canada Chief Executive Ron Brenneman’s not so sure.
    Brenneman said at the Reuters Energy Summit that nuclear may be part of the solution as the oil sands industry looks to cut the use of scarcer and scarcer natural gas. Eventually. Maybe.
    “It’s not clear to me that this is as elegant a solution as it might appear on paper,” he said.
    It’s the so-called in situ projects that are at issue, not the mining ones. The technology to produce the crude involves pumping steam into the ground, which loosens up the tar-like bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface in wells.
    Petro-Canada uses that method at its MacKay River project in northeastern Alberta.
    It is considering another one called Lewis.
    However, the company is planning to move first with its Fort Hills, Alberta, mining project in hopes the technology for generating steam improves.
    Besides eyeing nukes, the industry is moving toward devising ways of generating steam without natural gas. These include burning waste products from the gooey oil, like petroleum coke or asphaltenes.
    Nuclear power plants have to be of a certain girth to make them viable, and even then it hasn’t been proven that they can push steam over far enough distances to reach numerous projects, he said.
    In addition, it could be 15-20 years before such a plant could be built in a province that has always shunned the technology, Brenneman said.

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