Alberta-bound through Thunder Bay

December 1, 2008   by Deborah Aarts

Ship-mounted cranes lower the 1.3 million-pound reactor off the M/V Daniella at the Port of Thunder Bay.

As an oil company operating in Northeastern Alberta, you may be in the market for a big-ticket capital item. There’s likely a manufacturer in Asia who can give you what you need for a decent price, and if you’re satisfied with the terms and you’ve got the budgetary go-ahead to close the deal, you can start clearing space for it.

But how are you going to get it there?

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) had to find an answer to that question with its recent purchase of a 1.3 million-pound (650-ton) reactor for its extraction operation north of Fort McMurray, which presented several logistical challenges. The road infrastructure servicing the city hasn’t yet caught up to the aggressive pace of development. Highway 63 in particular is infamous for its heavy volumes and high number of accidents. Until recently, For McMurry’s only rail corridor was an underused shortline in dire need of repair.

In this area, moving something as simple as a standard container can be a challenge. Transporting an exceptionally heavy reactor that measures 35 metres long, just over four metres wide and nearly five metres tall required more than just creativity.

Since project cargo requires such unique expertise, companies like CNRL usually leave logistics in the hands of the manufacturer.

This time, it took control, hiring Calgary-based project freight forwarders Rohde & Liesenfeld Canada Inc. to co-ordinate the transport of the reactor before it was even fabricated.

“[We wanted CNRL] to realize the benefits of really taking ownership of the logistics planning and pricing component,” explains Jan Beringer, Rohde & Liesenfeld’s president and CEO.

Those benefits started with consolidation. Rohde & Liesenfeld discovered that if the unit were sent on a vessel with other heavy walled equipment destined for different projects in the area, the shipping costs would be significantly lower.

With CNRL’s approval, Beringer and his team developed several other ideas to improve the process. They came up with some different routing and modal options, and they secured buy-in from other stakeholders, including the Port of Thunder Bay and Canadian National rail (CN). As detailed plans for the project emerged, so did new avenues of opportunity and the scope began to broaden. Before long the reactor became the catalyst for a new gateway to bring in oil sands project cargo.

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