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Fort McMurray Today: Shell possible customer for atomic energy

Today staff
Tuesday May 22, 2007

The mystery around a new Royal Dutch Shell PLC subsidiary is deepening.

Last year, Sure Northern Energy Ltd. bought the most expensive oilsands lease to date in a location that has bitumen deposited in rocks instead of mixed with dirt and sandstone.

Now, the company is reportedly looking at nuclear power to support its experimental oilsands ambitions, 100 kilometres northwest of Fort McMurray, according to the Globe and Mail.

Sure is a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell. The parent company is tightlipped about the plan.

Energy Alberta Corp., a private company working with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to bring nuclear to the oilsands, said it has talked to all of the companies.

“But we don’t have any contract with any oilsands company,” Wayne Henuset, president of Energy Alberta told Today this morning.

He said Shell was just one of the companies Energy Alberta approached but there was no deal struck between them.

While Sure Energy has not been forthcoming with its plans, Husky Energy has publicly expressed an interest in using nuclear power and has said it wants to partner with Royal Dutch.

Energy Alberta is not secretive about its goal to bring nuclear energy to Alberta’s oilpatch.

“We’re proposing to bring Candu Canadian technology, to become the lowest cost provider of energy for the oilsands producers in the region,” according to its website.

It boasts not only to offer cost-effective alternative to natural gas but also to “drastically reduce nearly all the greenhouse gas emissions required in the production and upgrading of bitumen.”

Last week, Energy Alberta had a public open house in Whitecourt where 300 people attended and just three opposed the nuclear plant, Henuset said.

“It’s almost 100 per cent acceptance,” he said.

But though there’s a positive response from Whitecourt residents, Peace River is still an option.

Peace River is closer to the oilsands, but the distance is not really a problem Henuset said, because electricity produced by nuclear power will be put in the provincial electrical grid.

Bitumen recovery from the rocks will require a huge amount of electricity.

Currently, most oilsands operations are fuelled by natural gas. Steam and electricity from the plants are used in the process at Syncrude Canada and Suncor Energy.

With the numerous projects to open in the next few years, the supply of natural gas might not be sufficient for all oilsands operations. That’s why companies are actively seeking for an alternative source such as gasification or burning the bitumen.

“It’s not in the Regional Issues Working Group’s position to allow or disallow the use of specific energy source,” Jacob Irving, executive director, told Today this morning.

“Supply of natural gas is always an issue and individual companies look at their own ways of fixing the problem,” Irving said.

Commercial development of Sure Northern is not expected until the next decade, the company said last year.

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© 2007 Fort McMurray Today

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