MCW Energy has developed a water-free, solvent-based approach to oil sands production, a process that recovers up to 99 percent of the hydrocarbon content, writes James Burgess. This process allows the producer to avoid the need for toxic tailings ponds, which are necessary in water and steam-driven extraction process. The solvents are recycled and with almost no waste left over, the produced sand can then be returned to the ground.
Burgess says the process is economical, too. He sites an independent report from Chapman Engineering Company that found that with oil prices at $80 per barrel, MCW’s technology can produce a barrel for just $35. And if WTI fell to $35 per barrel, MCW can produce for $24.
MCW has a processing facility in Utah that has an initial capacity of 250 barrels per day, with plans to scale up.
Utah’s Uintah Basin is thought to hold more than an estimated 30 billion barrels of oil across eight deposits. Unlike Alberta’s oil sands, the reserves in Utah are much closer to the surface, which allows for approaches like MCW’s solvent technology.
MCW is also looking at novel revenue streams, such as licensing its technology to other producers. The first license was awarded to Canadian TS Energy, a company that will have the rights to use the solvent-based technology in Canada and Trinidad and Tobago.
“Perhaps the main challenge the company now needs to overcome is the public distrust of oil sands exploitation,” Burgess writes. “A clean environmental record is the ultimate evidence that the closed-looped oil sands processing model is working.”
There are initiatives underway to make Alberta’s oil sands production more environmentally sustainable by recycling carbon emissions, among other efforts.
In June 2014, Suncor Energy and five industry partners announced a $165 million funding commitment to construct a dedicated Water Technology Development Center to test water treatment and further develop recycling technologies. Testing is slated to begin by early 2017.
The Alberta oil sands industry, which suffered a massive blow from spring wildfires that caused $2.76 billion in damages, making it the most expensive disaster for insurers in Canada’s history, must find cheaper, cleaner extraction technologies if it is to survive, according to a Bloomberg report.