A test shipment of bitumen oil from Alberta is on its way to China, but it didn’t get to a British Columbia port by pipeline – it was moved by train through Prince Rupert in a semi-solid form commonly known as neatbit.
Melius Energy in Calgary is not the first company to propose moving bitumen through BC in a semi-solid form by train, but it appears to be the first to actually land a potential customer in China and start shipping semi-solid bitumen by train.
It has sent its first container, containing 130 barrels of bitumen, to China in a test shipment, and is currently building a new demonstration plant in Edmonton that turns diluted bitumen into a solid called TrueCrude.
Using existing rail infrastructure, Melius says it could potentially move 120,000 barrels per day of pure bitumen in 100-unit trains through the Port of Prince Rupert.
Moving bitumen in semi-solid form addresses environmental concerns associated with moving diluted bitumen by rail, pipeline and oil tanker.
The concern is that an oil spill on either land or at sea could have serious environmental impacts. Shipping it in a solid, non-flammable form addresses those concerns. Should a container of TrueCrude ever crack open and end up in the ocean, it would float in one large block that could easily be recovered, the company says.
Oil-sands crude sails from B.C., sidestepping federal ban
A Canadian law barring oil tankers from the northern coast of British Columbia hasn’t stopped crude from setting sail there.
Two Calgary-based companies, Melius Energy and BitCrude, are exploiting a loophole in the law passed this summer — by shipping semi-solid bitumen mined from oil sands on a cargo ship rather than in liquid form on an oil tanker. About 130 barrels of bitumen left Prince Rupert, B.C., on Saturday bound for a refinery in China, according to Cal Broder, founder of both companies and chairman of BFH Corp. He declined to name the cargo’s buyer.
“What this demonstration was for was to show we can meet all regulatory requirements” for shipping out of Prince Rupert, Broder said by phone Wednesday.
Canada’s Senate in June passed Bill C-48, banning oil tankers off the northern B.C. coast, against the objections of the oil sands-producing province of Alberta. Broder was able to get around the ban by sending the bitumen in a 20-foot shipping container in a semi-solid state, undiluted with lighter oils such as condensate.
Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister, welcomed the news of the shipment.
“I’ve been following Bitcrude for awhile and am pleased to see exports off the NW coast of B.C.!” she said in a tweet.
This is great news!— Sonya Savage (@sonyasavage) September 25, 2019
Alberta bitumen is now en route to International markets after leaving the Port of Prince Rupert this week by shipping container. I’ve been following Bitcrude for awhile and am pleased to see exports off the NW coast of B.C !