Suncor Energy required a floating barge system with a 27,000-cubic-metre-per-hour pumping capacity for its tailings reduction process. The system was to be the largest floating process water pumping facility of its kind in the world and it had to be operational within 18 months.
WEIR Minerals North America proposed a modular solution that minimized on-site welding requirements at the remote Fort McMurray location by providing shippable pre-assembled modules fabricated entirely off-site at Supreme Steel’s Edmonton and Acheson facilities. The scope of the project included the fabrication and erection of six barge hulls, three pump houses and associated mechanical work.
“The main challenge was the sheer volume of welding that was required to complete the barges,” says Tyler Harris, Project Manager with Supreme Steel LP. “Due to the dimensions and the weight of the barges, in combination with crane limitations, we couldn’t move the sections once we began fabrication, so we needed to come up with a plan for executing a large volume of in-position welding.
“With several people welding at a time, we had to monitor them and hop-scotch them around to different sections of the hull so the heat would dissipate and not cause any deformation of the plates.”
The Suncor TRO Water Barge was the first barge project ever undertaken by Supreme Steel, Harris says. “It involved a steep learning curve, but we had a lot of qualified people on the project to help execute it. It was a huge stepping stone for the company and launched us into a whole new market. It was a good experience for everybody.”
The barge project, while not the first of its kind, is one of the largest situated in the Fort McMurray oil sands. Suncor’s Tailings Reduction Operations (TRO TM) process involves accelerated conversion of fluid fine tailings into solid landscapes suitable for reclamation. The South Tailings Pond (STP) is one of the final staging points for water liberated during this process, and for water used in the bitumen extraction process. The Supreme/Weir barges pump water from the STP, using nine 1,000-horse-power pumps, back to the source pond from which the Suncor extraction plant draws water. There the water is recycled through the extraction process, minimizing the requirement for fresh water from the local rivers.
Harris notes that barge projects are becoming more common in the industry. “Barge projects of this magnitude show a big commitment on the part of oil companies to reduce their environmental footprint, which is pretty admirable.”
Owner: Suncor Energy Services Inc.
Architect: Hall Marine Design Ltd.
Structural Engineer: Weir Minerals Canada
Project Manager / General Contractor: Weir Minerals Canada
Fabricator: Supreme Steel LP
Detailer: Supreme Steel LP
Erector: Midwest Constructors