The FT process will internally produce all the steam and electrical power required to run the Kitimat refinery. It will also produce half of all the water required.
Since all refinery water will be recovered, treated and recycled, the main environmental focus has to do with air emissions. Engineering consultants have advised that there will be no difficulty in controlling air emissions to meet Canada’s strong regulations. The planet’s environment will be better for the refinery being located in Canada and not in a jurisdiction lacking in controls.
The main air emissions from a refinery are the following:
- Greenhouse Gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O)
- Ozone Reducing Gases – carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen oxides (NOx)
- Gases That Affect Local Air Quality – sulphur oxide (SOx), particulates (PM10), volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), and fugitive hydrocarbons.
1. Greenhouse Gases
The processing approach chosen for the refinery includes a combination of solvent de-asphalting and Fischer Tropsch gasification, rather than coking, for processing the distillation residuum. Most heavy oil refineries built in the world to date have used coking technology. KC will be the first to use the FT process in a heavy oil refinery. FT is not new in itself because it has been employed in many applications around the world for 90 years. However, Expander Energy from Calgary developed the FT heavy refinery process technology and received patents for it only in 2013. KC has an agreement with Expander on the process and is in discussions with major oil companies who are prepared to guarantee their proprietary FT equipment if KC decides to work with them.
Diesel, gasoline and jet fuel require a certain ratio of carbon atoms to hydrogen atoms. The distillation residual oil in a heavy oil refinery is high in carbon content and coking units are normally used to remove the extra carbon. Using coking technology, a refinery the size of Kitimat would produce 100 train cars a day of high sulphur coke as a by-product. FT technology uses the opposite approach as it adds hydrogen to the residuum to get the required ratio of carbon to hydrogen. The hydrogen is taken from natural gas. No by-product coke is produced when using FT. Effectively, low priced natural gas and residual carbon are transformed into high value diesel.
The additional capital cost to build an FT refinery versus a coking refinery is roughly $5 billion. There is a return on this capital due to higher product volume yields but the greatest benefit lies in the reduced emissions from the refinery. A coking refinery of this size produces 10 million tons per year (TPY) of CO2 emissions directly. When the by-product coke is subsequently burned another 22.5 million TPY are released, for a total of 33.5 million TPY. A similar sized FT refinery produces 9.5 million TPY of CO2 emissions, roughly one quarter as much.
2. Ozone Reducing Gases
Emissions of CO result from the incomplete combustion of natural gas in process heaters and furnaces. These emissions will be low due to the use of clean fuels. In the larger furnaces SCR technology will reduce CO emissions.
Emissions of NOx stem from the high temperature combustion of fuel gas. KC will use “Low NOx Burners” and will use “Selective Catalytic Reduction” (SCR) technology on all larger furnaces.
3. Gases That Affect Local Air Quality
Emissions of SOx are reduced by removing sulphur from all internally-produced fuel and by maximizing the efficiency of the sulphur recovery operations. In addition KC will use a hydrocracking process for diesel conversion, instead of fluid catalytic cracking, which will reduce Sox, NOx and particulate emissions when compared to most refineries in North America.
The sources of particulate emissions include furnaces and boilers, thermal oxidizers and flares. Furnaces and boilers will burn primarily natural gas so particulate emissions are expected to be insignificant. Flares will be designed for smokeless operation and gas recovery systems will minimize flaring events. The lack of coking operations will remove coke dust problems, which are normally of major concern.
Emissions of VOC’s and Fugitive Hydrocarbons will be minimized through the use of enclosed storage tanks with recovery systems, pump and compressor seal designs that provide multiple seals and barriers, low emission packings for valves, and vapour recovery systems for all loading and handling operations. Furthermore, a rigorous Leak Detection and Repair Program (LDAR) will be applied for all operations.
In summary, the FT process used at the Kitimat refinery will cut CO2 Greenhouse Gas emissions by 24 million tons per year compared to a refinery built in Asia. Also Ozone Reducing Gases will be dramatically reduced and emissions from Gases That Affect Local Air Quality will be largely removed.
Other environmental considerations for the refinery have to do with possible problems caused by heavy local precipitation or by earthquakes. Plant design will allow for all-season water-oil separation ponds and equipment. Storm water runoff will be controlled so that it does not contaminate the streams and rivers. Berms will be built and maintained around all fuel storage tanks.
The site has been logged and there is no activity on it..
Delivery of solid bitumen
A great deal of crude oil in North America is currently being moved by rail. The costs are not that different to move bitumen by pipeline or by rail between Alberta and Kitimat and no permits are required for rail. Rail delivery of heavy oil can be made completely safe by transporting solid bitumen only.
The Douglas Channel is a wide and deep fjord with a two kilometer wide fairway for most of its length. The refinery Marine Terminal on the Douglas Channel will be environmentally state of the art in its design and operation, to prevent all spills if at all possible and provide cleanup if necessary.
The new tankers will transport refined fuels that float and evaporate if spilled. They will not carry dilbit. It is unlikely that there will ever be a major spill at sea but diluted bitumen is a serious problem, if there is. Bitumen has the viscosity of tar or caulking material. It would coat and dry upon mud flats, beaches and shore rocks killing animals, plants and marine life. There is sediment in the waters along our coast so the dilbit would also sink, causing devastation below the surface. Refined fuels are far safer as they require little or no remediation in the event of a spill.
The following table provides some general information about the density and viscosity of various crude oils.
API Density Scale Floats on Water Viscosity Comparison
Condensates over 55 yes
Light oil over 38 yes water
Medium oil 22 to 38 yes syrup
Dilbit 21 no (if sediment)
Heavy oil 10 to 22 yes molasses
Fresh Water 10
Salt Water 7
Bitumen 0 to 10 no caulking
Crude oil density is classified by the American Petroleum Institute (‘API’). The API scale is based on density at a temperature of 15.6 ºC. The higher the API number, the lighter the crude.
Two incidents on our coast serve to illustrate the difference between a crude oil spill and a refined fuel spill. The Exxon Valdez cleanup of Prudhoe oil, which is medium light with an API density of 27, took two years, up to 11,000 people, 1,400 vessels and $2 billion back in 1989, and there is still a lingering affect from the 250,000 barrel spill (equal in volume to 17 Olympic-sized swimming pools). It killed around 150,000 sea birds, 3,000 sea otters and 22 orca. Only 10% of the oil was recovered. The oil did not sink but the fishery was severely affected.
An oil sands diluted bitumen spill would be much more difficult to clean up than the Prudhoe spill. A November 30 2013 Canadian Federal Government report confirmed that dilbit sinks in salt water when mixed with sediment in as little as three hours (see page 51 for pictures). A BC Ministry of the Environment report in March 2013 said we may salvage as little as 4% of a bitumen spill in Georgia Strait. The waters up north can be far more difficult. There are higher tides, stronger tidal currents and higher winds. When the current and wind act against each other the waves can be very large given the shallowness of the waters (some banks and reefs are less than 35 meters deep and 18 meter waves are possible). That puts sediment from the sea bottom in the water column in addition to glacial sediment and plant matter, all of which cause dilbit to sink. The Exxon Valdez incident showed that steam cleaning of rocks, beaches and mudflats removed the medium light oil but destroyed all plant life and micro-organisms. They abandoned that approach. Without steam, the much more viscous bitumen would be all but impossible to clean up. Sunken bitumen would be extremely difficult to locate given the tidal currents and virtually impossible to remediate. Although it is highly improbable, imagine if 2,000,000 barrels of dilbit were spilled from a large tanker. It would cover a lot more than the 1,300 miles of shoreline coated by the Exxon spill.
On the other hand, we have positive experience with gasoline and diesel spills. Lab tests show gasoline evaporates in 2 days, jet fuel in 1 week and diesel in 2 weeks. When a barge load of diesel spilled north of Campbell River BC in 2007, the slick extended for 5 kilometers but the diesel disappeared in 2 weeks. No remediation was undertaken or required. No birds, animals or fish were reported killed. Refined fuels are toxic and they leave behind chemicals when they evaporate but they are far better in a spill than dilbit.