ABB expands services and automation for Alberta's oil sands

  • June 20, 2008
  • ABB
  • News
June 20, 2008 - In just two and a half years, the ABB office in Calgary, Canada has swelled from 45 to more than 200 employees, and it is still hiring. What’s driving the expansion? The oil sands development project in Alberta. Covering an area equal to the state of North Carolina, Alberta’s oil sands are just what the name implies: a heavy mixture of bitumen, a substance comprised of tar-like hydrocarbons, water, clay and sand that has the consistency of molasses. The Canadian government estimates that approximately 174 billion barrels of crude oil are recoverable from the massive deposits, making Canada second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of global oil reserves. Extracting oil sands is challenging compared to oil from traditional fields because it either must be surface mined or forced into underground producing wells with steam, both of which require innovative technology. Turning oil sands deposits into crude oil is a two step process: First, the raw material must be extracted from the ground and; Second, it must be upgraded to synthetic crude. ABB's power products and control systems are an integral part of the conversion process. “This is a very diverse business for us,” explained Marcus Toffolo, vice-president, Chemical, Oil & Gas, ABB Canada. “There is strong demand for motors, drives, controls and of course the power products and systems to support all of the various operations.” While some of the oil sands deposits are shallow enough to reach through surface mining, most of the oil is extracted using a technique known as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). Two drill lines are created to inject steam into a given deposit and then draw out the loosened material. The steam injection process utilizes a local power supply that can be moved from one location to another as pockets of oil are extracted. ABB Raffin in Calgary meets this particular need with compact e-houses -- structures equipped with the necessary power generation equipment -- that can be moved around as different oil sands reserves are developed. ABB also provides motors, drives, controls and electrical equipment to support the surface mining, which is similar to other mining operations. System 800xA Extended Automation, for example, plays a key role in controlling the extraction and upgrading processes, and integrates controls, analytics and other key technologies provided by ABB. To meet these diverse customer needs, ABB created the Alberta Initiative to build local capabilities and provide customers with comprehensive solutions, based on ABB's Main Electrical Contractor (MEC) and Main Automation Contractor (MAC) approach. “Large projects in the $5 billion to$10 billion range require a strong local presence, and they require us to present one face to the customer,” Toffolo said. “It’s also important to note that everything we supply to this market—high efficiency motors, combustion optimization, emissions monitoring, even services like reliability monitoring— makes oil production more energy efficient and reduces the client’s environmental footprint.” Toffolo also noted the importance of after-sale support, especially field service, in an industry where downtime is extremely costly. The oil sands market reads like a Who’s Who of the oil and gas industry. Shell, Suncor, Conoco Phillips, Devon Energy, Husky--the list of ABB customers goes on and on. New pipelines are in development to move Alberta crude from the oil sands to the port of Vancouver as well as to refineries in the United States, which are adding equipment to handle the upgraded oil. ABB’s Process Automation division delivers integrated solutions for control, plant optimization, and industry-specific application knowledge and services to help process industry customers worldwide meet their critical business needs in the areas of operational profitability, capital productivity, risk management and global responsibility. These industries include oil and gas, power, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, metals, minerals, marine and turbocharging. ABB is a leader in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve their performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies operates in around 100 countries and employs more than 110,000 people. Learn More

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