The Innovation: Taking the dirty out of dirty oil
The Innovator: Neil Camarta
Exploration and Development
Whether it’s the European Union’s aborted fuel quality directive or the efforts of anti-Keystone protestors to single out oil sands crude, it’s clear that Canadian crude is under attack. These attacks share a common strategy: to effectively de-commoditize oil from various sources by defining them by the emissions attached to extracting them. That’s bad news for oil sands crude, given that it tends to have marginally higher emissions profiles than some of its competing sources of supply. But Neil Camarta, an industry veteran who has run oil sands operations for Shell and Petro-Canada, has a solution that could stop those efforts dead in their tracks: DSU. The acronym stands for desulfurization and upgrading, and it’s a new upgrading process being offered by his new company, Field Upgrading, that he describes as being both simpler and more elegant than existing options.
It involves mixing molten sodium with bitumen, which takes the sulfur, heavy metals and acids out of the oil and yields a pipe-ready product (no diluent needed) with just “a fraction of the hydrogen required in conventional upgrading.” As a result, the company says, its process reduces both operating costs and carbon emissions compared to existing upgrading options. Indeed, according to Camarta, a recent test of a sample of Fort McMurray bitumen which contained five per cent sulfur, 300 ppm of heavy metals, an API under eight and an acid number of five was transformed by the DSU process into a product with 0.1 per cent sulfur content, five ppm of heavy metals and no acid at all. And because it’s fully scalable, it can be deployed in a variety of ways, from on-site upgrading of SAGD production to a full-scale permanent facility.