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The Regional Athabasca Merchant Crude Customization Project (RAM Project) will upgrade both Athabasca crude bitumen produced from the TriStar Main leases, located in the Athabasca oil sands region in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and merchant bitumen from other producers in the Athabasca Region. The TriStar Main leases south and southeast of Fort McMurray, Alberta, cover approximately 49 sections (12,617 hectares) in Townships 87-88, Ranges 8-9, West of the 4th Meridian.


VCI will submit an integrated application and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the RAM Project to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) in 2018.  The RAM Project will extract and upgrade bitumen into a premium medium crude product called Clean Oil La-Fit (COLF). COLF is clean, low in residue and contaminants and well suited to VCI’s future Clean Oil Refinery (CORe™) and other refineries in North America. COLF has a much lower viscosity compared to bitumen and can be transported in pipelines without the addition of diluent, which results in lower transportation costs, and a reduced environmental footprint.


The RAM Project will also process third-party bitumen (merchant bitumen) mainly in the form of diluted bitumen (dilbit) to produce additional COLF. The diluent recovered from the merchant dilbit will be sold back to the bitumen producers in the region.


The RAM Project will be developed in up to eight phases, with each phase essentially replicating the previous one.  Each phase is designed to extract 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) of bitumen from VCI’s TriStar Main leases, that will be processed together with 20,000 bpd of merchant bitumen (approximately 29,000 bpd of dilbit), to produce approximately 32,000 bpd of COLF product and 9,000 bpd of recovered diluent.


The RAM Project is designed to use Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) process to extract the bitumen. A VCI proprietary in situ bitumen extraction technology, called Condensibles Steam In Situ Recovery (CSIR), will be tested in Phase 1 of the Project. CSIR takes a condensible hydrocarbon (CHC) stream, which can be drawn either from the merchant dilbit, or from the product of the upgrading unit of the Project, and co-injects it with steam to enhance the thermal in situ bitumen production. Since the CHC further reduces the viscosity of the bitumen, CSIR™ is expected to boost the per-well productivity while significantly reducing the steam to oil ratio (SOR) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity.  After successful tests, VCI may implement CSIR™ in the Project.


The RAM Project will also employ VCI’s proprietary bitumen treatment and upgrading technologies: Accelerated Decontamination (ADC™), and Clean Oil Cracking (COC™). ADC™ is VCI’s proprietary bitumen processing technology which directly processes the bitumen emulsion from the production wells. It innovatively applies colloid physics to separate out water and asphaltenes from the bitumen emulsion. It produces a higher-value premium heavy oil product called DeContaminated Oil (DCO) with a higher efficiency and better yield compared to competing technologies. DCO is then sent to the COC™ for additional upgrading. The ADC™ process also produces asphaltene, which is the heaviest component in the bitumen with the highest content of carbon, sulphur, nitrogen and metal compounds. Asphaltene is a stable solid, and will be stored in a depleted mine pit, thereby creating a means of pre-emptive carbon capture and storage, which will result in significant reduction in overall GHG emissions.


The COC™ is an innovative configuration based on conventional thermal cracking processes with proprietary design specifications to take advantage of the unique, nearly asphaltene-free qualities of the DCO feed. For a conventional thermal cracking process, the conversion is limited by the product instability caused by asphaltene precipitation. The asphaltenes also cause coking of the furnace coils and thus reduce the process run-length. By removing the asphaltenes in the ADC™, and by applying proprietary design specifications, the COC™ can achieve a far higher conversion with good product stability and overall quality. The resulting COLF is clean in the sense that it is nearly asphaltene free, and has very low residue and contaminants. COLF is stable, and is well suited as feedstock for VCI’s future Clean Oil Refinery (CORe™) and most existing refineries in North America. Unlike coking processes, COC™ does not produce a coke byproduct. COC™ uses natural gas and plant off-gas to supply the process heat and thus has low operating cost and low emissions.

VCI is committed to the protection and enhancement of the environment. The RAM Project will be designed to minimize environmental impacts in a variety of ways including the following:


  • The application of VCI proprietary technologies with high energy efficiencies which translate into lower emissions;

  • The pre-emptive removal and storage of the high carbonaceous materials, i.e. the asphaltenes, creates a means of a low-cost high-reliability carbon capture and storage, is significant in carbon content comparing to the overall GHG emissions;

  • COLF is pipelinable without the need of diluent, thus eliminating the emissions associated with the transport of the diluent to the Project site and the transport of the diluent in the DilBit to the refineries;

  • The easy-to-process COLF also results in lower emissions in the refineries;

  • The Project will not draw surface water except for potential recycle of the water in the storm water pond when available;

  • The water source for the Project will be non-potable water from a deep-water source;

  • All of the produced water will be recovered, and the majority will be recycled and reused for steam injection.


The RAM Project will provide several economic benefits to the local, regional, provincial and national economies throughout the various stages of development and operation. These benefits include, but are not limited to the following:


  • Increasing the value of the oil sands bitumen production locally and within the province by upgrading the bitumen emulsion directly from wells using its ADC™ and COC™ processes to produce COLF, a favorably marketable premium medium oil product that is suitable as feedstock for a majority of North American refineries;

  • Business and employment opportunities related to facilities engineering, fabrication and construction;

  • The phased development of the Project means the number of construction workers can be staged as required over an extended period of time;

  • Business and employment opportunitied related to ongoing operations once the facility is fully built, commissioned and operating; and

  • Government revenues through royalties and taxes


VCI is passionate about the future of the oil sands and strongly supports value enhanced bitumen production and upgrading in Alberta. To date, VCI has already made substantial contributions to support the province’s policies to improve value-added bitumen processing technologies. To support its commitment to industry, Alberta, and the environment, VCI will:


  • Carry out its business and operations with openness, honesty and integrity;

  • Meet of exceed regulatory requirements governing the approval and operation of the RAM Project

  • Work with governments, regulatory agencies, other operators, communities and stakeholders to address any issues or concerns as they arise;

  • Consult with First Nations, Métis and other Aboriginal peoples affected by the RAM Project in a timely and respectful manner;

  • Seek to understand and collaborate on initiatives designed to improve the quality of life in communities where they operate;

  • Seek to understand and to minimize impacts of its operations on the environment through collaboration and commitment to innovation; and

  • Protect the health and safety of its workers and people living in communities where they operate.


The Community and Stakeholder Engagement Program (the Consultation Program) for the Project will help build a foundation for long-term respectful, positive and mutually beneficially relationships with community and stakeholders. The cornerstone of the Program is to always say what we mean and have an open and honest attitude when listening to what communities and stakeholders are saying. The Program will be carried out in a manner that reflects VCI’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility and it will occur throughout the life of the RAM Project. The Program will be implemented in phases, with the initial phases designed to inform communities and stakeholders about the RAM Project, and to enhance VCI’s understanding of potential impacts of the RAM Project on communities. Subsequent phases will focus on identifying and addressing specific stakeholder issues and concerns in a manner that is mutually beneficial.

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