* Kearl production expected by March 31
* Company unable to predict initial oil volumes
* Must fill tanks, pipeline first
CALGARY, Alberta, March 18 Imperial Oil Ltd
said on Monday its expects its C$12.9 billion ($12.66
billion) Kearl oil sands project to begin operating within the
next two weeks, more than three months past its original target,
but the company cannot yet say how much oil the plant will
Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman for Imperial, said operations at
the first of Kearl's three production trains, capable of
handling up to 50,000 barrels of heavy oil sands crude per day,
will begin by month's end.
"We're working on the start-up of the first froth-treatment
train," Rolheiser said. "I can't say (how much production) that
might be. It will depend on the success of our efforts between
now and the end of the first quarter ... Whether it will be at
full capacity? I don't know."
First oil from the facility was initially expected in
December. But a series of court challenges in the U.S. Pacific
Northwest that stalled the transport of huge foreign-made
processing modules to the project site pushed completion into
the coldest months of northern Alberta's winter, slowing outdoor
work at the site.
Kearl, co-owned by Imperial and Exxon Mobil Corp,
will eventually produce 110,000 bpd from its initial stage, with
subsequent expansions slated to push output to 345,000 bpd.
However, even if initial production begins at the train's
full 50,000 bpd capacity, no oil from the project is expected to
hit the over-supplied Canadian market for weeks. Imperial must
first fill storage tanks and the pipeline to the facility, a
process analysts expect to take as much as 90 days.