Fort Hills is an oil sands mine project in production in the Athabasca region of Alberta in Canada, around 90km north of Fort McMurray.

The project has a capacity of producing 194,000 barrels of bitumen per day.

In 2002, the Fort Hills mine secured regulatory approval from the Alberta Environment and the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board.

The final investment decision (FID) for the project was reached in 2013 and it achieved its first production in January 2018.

The C$13.5bn ($10.8bn) project is spread across 59,138 acres. It is estimated to host 3.4 billion barrels of bitumen, which is being recovered through open-pit mining.

At a production rate of 180,000 barrels per day (bpd), the mine is projected to have a life expectancy of more than 50 years.

Ownership

Fort Hills is owned by the Fort Hills Energy Limited Partnership (FHELP). FHELP comprises three partners - TotalEnergies E&P Canada (24.6%), Teck Resources (21.3%) and Suncor Energy (54.1%).

An affiliate of Suncor operates the project.

In October 2022, Teck Resources agreed to sell its 21.3% working interest in the Fort Hills project to Suncor for C$1bn. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2023, subject to customary closing conditions including regulatory approval.

Once complete, Suncor's interest in the project will increase to 75.4%.

Originally, the Fort Hills project partners were Petro-Canada, UTS Energy, Teck Cominco and Fort Hills Energy.

Infrastructure

Fort Hills’ open-pit mine plan includes two pits and mining infrastructure capable of producing 14,500 tonnes of oil sand per hour.

Key infrastructure of the project includes a diluent recovery unit (DRU), a delayed coking unit (DCU) and other related infrastructure.

The project produces a partially-deasphalted marketable bitumen. The product is diluted with condensate and sold directly to the market.

Ore processing and extraction

The oil sands material received from the mine is fed into two ore-crushing plants where it is crushed and processed.

Subsequently, the processed ore is mixed with warm water and conditioned to create slurry. The oil sands slurry is then transported to primary extraction through three hydro transport lines.

During the primary extraction, the oil sands slurry is sent to two trains of separation cells, which remove the bitumen from the sand producing a froth mixture of bitumen, water and clay.

In the secondary extraction, the froth is mixed with solvent and processed through two stages of counter-current settlers to remove asphaltenes, sand and water.

A solvent recovery unit removes the solvent and prepares bitumen for shipping.

The heavy asphaltenes, sand and excess water from the settlers are sent through a tailings solvent recovery unit to remove any remaining solvent, while the residue is disposed of in the out-of-pit-tailings area.

Contractors involved

Technip secured a key services contract for the Fort Hills Oil Sands project in 2007. The scope of the contract included front-end engineering design, detailed engineering, procurement, construction and project management for the primary upgrader near Edmonton.

The contract also included the development of a diluent recovery unit (DRU), a delayed coking unit (DCU), and related facilities.

Fluor, a US-based engineering company, was awarded the engineering, procurement, fabrication and construction (EPFC) contract for the utility scope of Fort Hills in September 2014. As part of the work, the company delivered 358 modules for the oil sands project.

Engineering company KBR was engaged for providing construction services at the Fort Hills Secondary Extraction facility in July 2015. The work included onsite construction management and direct hire field construction services.

A&H Steel was responsible for providing installation services of terminals, utility structures, secondary extraction, mine and tailings, the east tank farm, and froth production, while Sancon provided commissioning and start-up leadership for the utility planning and execution portion of the Fort Hills Project.