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Alberta bitumen refinery faces further delays after testing of gasifier unit

CALGARY — A new refinery northeast of Edmonton is facing more delays and won't begin processing oilsands bitumen as designed until early next year.

Construction was completed on the $9.5-billion Sturgeon Refinery in the fall of 2017 and it began producing diesel shortly thereafter from synthetic crude that had already been partly upgraded at an Alberta oilsands mine.

It was to begin processing oilsands bitumen in early 2018 but has been stymied by issues with equipment including its gasifier, a unit designed to break down the heavier parts of the bitumen barrel to make hydrogen for the refining process and carbon dioxide for use in stimulating conventional oil and gas wells.

Spokeswoman Vanessa Goodman says the refinery has been running tests on a repaired gasifier unit during the current refinery maintenance shutdown that began in September.

However, while the tests showed the unit works, the refinery plans to continue to process synthetic crude when it restarts next month, with bitumen processing expected to follow early in 2020.

The refinery is a joint venture of North West Refining and oilsands producer Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., which is to provide 25 per cent of its bitumen feedstock. The rest is to come from the Alberta government-owned Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission.

"We were able to collect data to determine if any additional improvements need to be made (to the gasifier)," said Goodman.

"There will be another test period early in 2020."

Goodman says the refinery was producing about 35,000 barrels per day of diesel before the shutdown began.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2019.

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