Automation Plays Increasing Role in Oil Sands Development

Automation Plays Increasing Role in Oil Sands Development

Rockwell Automation contract with Alberta company demonstrates the potential for automation providers.

Rockwell Automation Inc. is one of the latest process automation providers to receive a significant order for expanding unconventional oil and gas development. On Aug. 16, the Milwaukee-based company said it received a $4 million order to provide its PlantPax process automation system to Grizzly Oil Sands ULC, an Alberta, Canada, oil sands company.

Oil and gas development from unconventional sources, such as shale rock and oil sands, has created a major growth opportunity for the automation industry, says David Clayton, a senior analyst at ARC Advisory Group. "Oil sands projects in Canada and the major shale gas development projects here in the U.S. are driving significant incremental business for automation suppliers," he says.

ARC has seen increased use of automation in oil sands mining, hauling and ore processing at the mine site, as well as transportation to the upgrader where heavy oil is processed into feedstocks for conventional oil refineries, says Dave Woll, vice president at ARC. Demand also is growing for fieldbus technologies at the mine and upgrader levels, which eliminate technician exposure to cold weather to service the field devices, Woll says.

Rockwell Automation and other automation suppliers are seeing growing demand for their products in oil sands development.
Photo: Rockwell Automation
Grizzly will use Rockwell Automation's PlantPax system to help produce more than 5,000 barrels of oil per day at its Algar Lake Project. The solution will support a technology for producing heavy crude oil and bitumen called steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAG-D).

Rockwell Automation has realized strong growth related to oil sands development, says Terry Gebert, vice president and general manager for Rockwell Automation's Global Solutions. The activity has included a mix of large-scale traditional process systems, such as upgraders, and smaller modular systems, including SAG-D, Gebert says.

"We see a very large opportunity in growing our business and have increased and continue to increase our oil and gas resources in Western Canada for that reason," Gebert says. As an example, Gebert cites Rockwell Automation's March 2009 acquisition of Hinz Automation in Canada.

In the future, remote control, or "shadow control" rooms also will increase in use for oil sands development. These rooms are useful because they mimic site control rooms in remote locations, Gebert says. "This helps solve the issue of hiring expensive site operators in very remote locations," he says.

See Also:
Robot Orders Jump 41% in North America for First Half of 2011

TAGS: Automation
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