Frontier oil sands project is a proposed oil sands mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta. Teck Resources and SilverBirch Energy jointly own the project, which is estimated to cost $20.6bn for development. The project is expected to produce 260,000 barrels per day (bpd) of partially deasphalted bitumen.
The project is expected to create 7,000 construction jobs and 2,500 jobs throughout its operations for the life of mine of approximately 41 years.
The project is currently undergoing a joint provincial-federal regulatory review process. Construction is anticipated to be commenced in 2019, with first oil production scheduled for 2026.
Frontier oil sands project location, geology, and mineralization
The Frontier oil sands project is situated in Athabasca Oil Sands region of Alberta and lies between Fort of McMurray and Fort of Chipewyan in north-east Alberta.
The project is categorized into two parts namely main development area (MDA) and south development area (SDA), which are located 100-110km north of Fort McMurray.
The project area hosts a sequence of Precambrian, Devonian, Cretaceous and Quaternary rocks. Bitumen resources within the MDA are found within Middle McMurray Member of the McMurray Formation and the Wabiskaw-D at the bottom of the Clearwater Formation.
The bitumen-bearing Middle McMurray Member and the water-saturated Lower McMurray are found under the quaternary sediments, at the SDA.
Frontier oil sands project reserves
The Frontier oil sands project is estimated to contain 2.82 billion recoverable barrels of bitumen at a TV:BIP ratio of 16:1.
Mining and ore processing at Frontier oil sands project
Conventional open-pit method, involving truck-and-shovel, will be applied at the Frontier project, which is proposed to be developed in two phases.
The first phase will comprise two process trains, which are expected to commence operation in 2026 and 2027, respectively. The second phase will comprise a third process train to be operational from 2037.
Major mining fleet includes 17-55m³ electric cable shovels, 144 haul trucks, 55 track dozers with a capacity from 180kW to 630kW, 26 motor graders, and nine 382kW hydraulic excavators.
The three process trains will comprise ore preparation, bitumen extraction, froth treatment and tailings processing units. Ore will be excavated and transported to the crushers by large shovels and haul trucks.
At the ore processing plant, the oil sand ore will be crushed and converted into slurry through the addition of hot water. The slurry will be pumped to the bitumen extraction plant, which will use conventional cone-shaped primary separation cells (PSC) to separate bitumen.
The resulting bitumen will be deaerated and forwarded to the froth treatment plant, wherein the middlings will be processed in primary flotation cells to recover additional bitumen. The PSC underflow and the tailings produced during the process will be sent to hydrocyclones for further processing.
The deaerated froth, containing bitumen, will be sent to an inter-stage bitumen storage tank and then to the froth separation unit (FSU) for froth treatment. It will be mixed with a paraffinic solvent to precipitate asphaltenes in the bitumen.
The diluted bitumen (dilbit) will then be processed in a solvent recovery unit to recover solvent for feed to the FSU. The resultant partly deasphalted bitumen product will be blended with a transportation diluent and sent to storage before being transported to the market.
Infrastructure facilities at Frontier oil sands project
A new all-season access road will be constructed to connect the project with a section of Highway 63.
Power supply for the project will be provided by on-site power generation facility, along with a connection to the Alberta power grid at 260kV. A substation at the plant site will reduce the 260kV power voltage to the desired 72kV.
Water for the project will be collected from the Athabasca River through an intake structure.
Workers will be accommodated at the 3,500-person construction lodge and a 1,500-person operations lodge, while natural gas will be collected from the Alberta natural gas pipeline network.