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Steam Team successfully recommissions steam systems from cold start

Jun 23, 2016

For the first time since the Mildred Lake plant was commissioned in 1977-78, Syncrude’s four critical steam systems underwent a cold system start-up, more than four weeks after the plant was completely shut down due to the region’s wildfire evacuation.

Thanks to more than 130 individuals working cross-functionally from Production, Maintenance, Technical, the Steam Team safely recommissioned Utility and Offsites’ four critical steam systems in early June, after weeks of planning, preparation and field work.

Syncrude’s steam systems provide the heat integration needed to operate our plant. Steam is used to produce electricity, and drive turbines and pumps. It’s also used in almost every step of our process, from the front-end of extraction, all the way through the upgrader. To fully re-start all four systems there was specific criteria, steps and guidelines that had to be met, including flushing kilometre-long lines clear of all residual water.

 “There was a tremendous effort applied to ensuring no one was hurt during the commission of these very large systems” says Nathan Carter, Conversion South Business Team Leader assigned to the Steam Team. “When you’re working with a high pressure and temperature commodity such as steam, there are many risks to manage. Completing the commissioning loss-free is a testament to the capability of the employees who pulled together to accomplish this important task. The result is truly impressive.”

To restart all four steam systems successfully, the multi-disciplinary Team worked through a phased approach. The first steam was commissioned at the end of May and the other systems followed in sequence, until they were all on-line in early June.

The Steam Team worked through the Return to Operations (RTO) group to align with full plant start-up activities. Hydroprocessing Business Team Manager Bruce Durnford praises the efforts of individuals involved in this “once in a career” opportunity.

“First and foremost, the priority is on restoring our company to profitable operation without personal or process safety incident. In addition, significant value has been gained in the learning for employees as we restart the operation from a full shutdown,” says Bruce. “We are going through an event that last happened close to four decades ago – starting up one of the most complex upgrading facilities in the world. The team is going through a part of Syncrude history.”

With Syncrude’s steam capacity available, the focus shifted to supporting commodity demands for the rest of start-up activities, and continuing RTO efforts in Extraction and Upgrading. So far in the start-up process, there’s much for employees to be proud of. Utilities and Offsites Manager Stephen Pocsai offers immense appreciation to everyone involved.

“The range of multi-disciplined individuals who came together to safely commission the backbone of this plant was exceptional,” says Stephen. “Despite challenging personal situations, the teams asked tough questions, thought through every contingency, and executed the overall work plan perfectly.”