By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta, July 31 Canadian Natural
Resources Ltd has cut its forecast for 2014 production
at its Primrose oil sands project in northern Alberta due to
leaks of tarry bitumen emulsion that could take months to stop
completely, company President Steve Laut said on Wednesday.
Canadian Natural said it has so far cleaned up 6,300 barrels
of the emulsion, bitumen mixed with water, from four different
sites at the Primrose project.
The leaks, which were first spotted on May 20, prompted the
Alberta Energy Regulator to restrict the amount of steam the
company can pump into the oil sands reservoir to extract
Laut said Canadian Natural has cut its forecast for 2014
production at Primrose to roughly the same level as 2013 -
100,000-110,000 barrels per day (bpd) - as a result of the
"That's about 10,000 bpd less than initially targeted so
there has been an impact," Laut said, adding 2013 production
guidance so far remains unchanged.
The project uses a high-pressure cyclic steam stimulation
method to extract bitumen from the oil sands. Steam is pumped
into a well for an extended period to liquefy the reserve. The
bitumen is then pumped out using the same well.
Canadian Natural said the leaks have been stopped and the
spill contained, but that bitumen emulsion would continue to
seep out of the ground for some time. It said it believed the
leaks were the result of mechanical failures in the welllbores,
or drill holes.
"There's a volume (of bitumen emulsion) that got there
through a level of wellbore failure that has to bleed out," Laut
said. "Over time, that becomes less and less and will eventually
drop off to nothing. It could take weeks, it could take months."
The company said fewer than 20 barrels a day are still
seeping to the surface. It said the spills initially covered an
area of 20.7 hectares, and have now been contained in 13.5
Sixteen birds, seven small mammals and 38 amphibians have
died, although the bitumen emulsion presents no danger to
humans, Canadian Natural said.
Laut said at this point the cost of the clean-up operation
is estimated to be about C$40 million ($39 million).
Cara Tobin, spokeswoman for the Alberta Energy Regulator,
said it was too soon to tell whether fines would be imposed on
the company, but an investigation was underway.
"The incident is still ongoing, it's too early to make the
call on enforcement," Tobin said. "We will be doing a lot of
research over the next little while to identify and confirm from
our point of view what the causes are."