The Globe and Mail reports that Royal Dutch Shell is considering nuclear power to support an experimental technology to extract bitumen trapped in hard-rock limestone, rather than in conventional oil sands.
Shell, through Calgary-based subsidiary Sure Northern Energy Ltd., paid the Alberta government C$571-million to acquire exploration rights 100 kilometers west of Fort McMurray, the heart of the oil sands development at this time. The Shell area reportedly holds an estimated 60 billion barrels of raw bitumen.
Shell’s in-situ production technology uses in-ground heaters to loosen up the bitumen for extraction. Applying the technology in the limestone area would require a very large amount of electricity, hence the interest in nuclear power.
The Anglo-Dutch energy giant is the likeliest customer for a nuclear power plant proposed by Energy Alberta Corp., a private company working with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
Energy Alberta, backed by oil patch veteran Hank Swartout, has a deal with government-controlled AECL to develop a nuclear reactor for the oil sands.
One unnamed company is looking to take 70 per cent of the output from Energy Alberta’s proposed $6.2-billion twin nuclear reactor that would start producing 2,200 megawatts in 2016. The reactor design exists only on a drawing board and the amount of power is equal to about a fifth of Alberta’s electricity supply.
For comparison, Suncor Energy Inc., the second-largest oil sands producer, uses roughly 400 megawatts of electricity at its operations.