Canadian oil sands producers could fetch up to $15 more per barrel with this technology

A University of Calgary study argues that partially upgrading oil sands crude could be very profitable for Alberta. ( Image: Suncor Energy | Flickr)

Canadian oil sand producers would benefit from higher capacity of so-called “partial upgrading” technology, a method that would help them fetch higher prices while injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into the province of Alberta’s economy, a new study shows.

According to researchers from the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, the construction of a typical partial upgrader would — under certain scenarios — bring in billions in returns to both private companies and government over a 20-year period.

The adoption of a“partial upgrading” technology could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars into Alberta’s economy, University of Calgary researchers argue.

The report notes that even one partial upgrader, churning out 100,000 barrels per day, could boost Alberta’s annual GDP by $505 million and create 179,000 person-years of employment.

“Full upgraders have proved uneconomical without substantial public subsidies, but partial upgrading offers a potentially economical middle ground,” the authors wrote.

They also claim that that partially upgraded bitumen is cheaper to ship because it does not need a lubricant known as diluent added to the pipeline to move it through.

“The value of each barrel produced would also be higher, benefitting oil sands producers,” the study says, pegging the value increase at $10 to $15 per barrel.

About 60% of Alberta’s current oil sands output is shipped in its raw form, which requires the use of diluent. The remaining production is upgraded into a more refined product known as synthetic crude oil.

Implementing upgrading technology, however, requires massive up-front investment, which most producers are not in a position to do in the short-term.

The study insists that the technology represents an opportunity to process bitumen into a higher-value product when compared to its raw state, adding the final product would face more favourable market conditions than a full synthetic crude oil.

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