The role of Dredging in the oil sands industry
Director of Business Development,
Faced with the prospect of supplying dredging equipment to a client looking to manage its oil sand tailings, Canada-based Aecon turned to Damen for its input and established dredging knowledge. Here, Aecon’s Director of Business Development Troy Garnett talks to Damen Dredging Journal about a contract that was complex both technically and logistically.
Oil sands are loose sands that are saturated with bitumen – a heavy and sticky form of crude oil. The oil produced from the sands is often referred to as unconventional oil. The largest deposits are found in Canada, Kazakhstan and Russia. One significant by-product of oil sand surface mining is the large volume of tailings. These are held in oil sands tailings ponds containing a mixture of water, clay, residual hydrocarbons and mature fine tailings (MFT).
“These ponds are between 10 to 25 metres deep,” says Mr Garnett. They are also very large – anything up to 20 km long. “Therefore, depending on the application, a tailings floating pipeline can also be up to 20 km long.”
Know your specs
MFT dredging plays a vital role in the management of the tailing ponds. “Therefore our client was looking for someone with a pedigree and proven expertise with dredging,” explains Mr Garnett. “And when it comes to dredging, there’s no better place to go than the Netherlands.” Aecon made its first contact with Damen in October 2013. As always, a thorough comprehension of the project’s requirements were vital. “We understood what our client’s parameters were,” he continues. “For example, the consistency and density of their product. How much debris it contained and also how far they wanted to move it. Then we approached Damen with this set of requirements.” Damen’s response? Such a substantial project would require e two of their largest cutter suction dredgers – the Damen CSD 650. With an installed power of 2,800 kW, this design is capable of production levels of 7,000 m3 per hour.
Aecon is Canada’s largest publicly traded infrastructure development and construction company. Included under its wide umbrella of business is a shipyard in Nova Scotia, on the Canadian east coast. Therefore, the company has all the necessary shipbuilding skills in-house to manage such a ship construction project. “We fabricated all the structural steel components and piping for this dredging vessel contract.” Damen’s involvement concerned the dredging engineering and design: “They provided all the major dredging parts like pumps, cutter heads and agitator heads. Aecon provided the fabrication expertise but we left the dredging design up to Damen. After all, we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel – that’s why we have a partner in Damen.” The fact that Aecon’s shipyard is located approximately 5,000 km from the oil sands site raised the question of transportation. “We fabricated modularised components here at the yard and sent those to the site by truck. Once there, we assembled the vessels on site.”
No welds, just bolts
Aecon’s client in the Canadian oil sands was looking for a piece of equipment that they could transport between sites. “The vessels’ modular aspect means they can move the dredgers from one application to another,” says Mr Garnett. “Modularisation also reduces the amount of time and energy on the job site – this is also something that our client really likes. If you can get something on site and get it together very quickly, you can reduce a fair amount of the overheads. It also minimises risks in terms of both productivity and safety.” One explanation regarding the safety aspect: “The advantage is that there’s no welding on site,” he says. After all, the oil sands is an area of oil production. “The modules are designed to minimize site welding requirements so all the connections are bolted – not welded.”
Delivered in summer 2015, these two CSD 650 vessels represent the first cooperation between Aecon and Damen. The Canadian company doesn’t limit itself to dredging though: “We are also involved in custom fabrication of modules and piping servicing for the oil & gas industry and renewables sectors as well.”
“We’ve been working with Damen for two years now. When we started working with them, we knew that the Canadian culture was were very similar to that in the Netherlands. It’s important to build relationships and build trust. That’s where we are at now – at the acceleration point. We are looking forward to moving forward with Damen – maybe we can start building some other vessels together.”