Williams project to turn oil sands off-gas into plastic feedstock

Ethane and ethylene will be separated and sent to Nova Chemicals in Joffre, Alta.

Williams will remove ethane from the mixture of gases that are a byproduct of the oil sands upgrading.

Photo: Williams Energy

CALGARY — A project to turn oil sands off-gas into a feedstock for plastic producers is almost ready for startup.

The president of Williams Energy Canada said that mechanical work on the project – which involves modifications and expansions to its facilities in Fort McMurray and Redwater, Alta., – is virtually done.

In the next week and a half or so, Williams should be able to remove ethane from the mixture of gases that are a byproduct of the oil sands upgrading process, David Chappell said.

Ordinarily that gas would be burned as an energy source by oil sands producers, but Chappell said it’s more valuable to sell it to petrochemical companies that can turn it into plastic products.

“At the end of the day, it’s getting more value from what we produce in Alberta and by getting more value, we’re getting more jobs and more tax revenue.”

The gas will be collected at Williams’ facilities in Fort McMurray, Alta., and then sent by pipeline to Redwater, northeast of Edmonton, where it will be separated.

After that, Nova Chemicals will receive 17,000 barrels per day of ethane and ethylene at its plant in Joffre, Alta., which will be used to make products such as plastic bags and bulk containers.

Williams, headquartered in Oklahoma, has invested between $450 million and $500 million on the project over the last two years.

Separately, Williams plans to spend up to $900 million to build a plant near Edmonton that would convert a different gas, propane, into a more valuable product used to make plastics.

The propane dehydrogenation facility – the first in Canada to use this process, according to Williams – would make polymer-grade propylene.

That project is expected to be complete in 2016.

© 2013 The Canadian Press