Williams said late Tuesday it is considering an expansion of its facilities in Canada to process the significant new source of off-gas associated with Alberta’s growing oilsands production. The Tulsa-based company also will study whether to extract high-value ethane from current and future off-gas streams in the same producing area.

Since 2002, Williams has operated two facilities in the heart of Alberta’s oilsands region. Significant amounts of off-gas are a byproduct of the process of upgrading oil extracted from the sand. At its Fort McMurray and Redwater facilities, Williams recovers and purifies natural gas liquids and olefins from the off-gas that are used by the petrochemical industry.

The company plans to evaluate whether to construct a cryogenic processing plant, expanding its existing Redwater fractionator north of Edmonton, and whether to add a de-ethanizer to the Redwater complex. If Williams decides to move forward, operations could begin in stages by 2010 and a new off-gas processing plant could start up in 2012.

“As the only company with facilities in service to recover olefins and natural gas liquids from the Canadian oilsands off-gas, Williams is uniquely positioned to provide these services,” said Williams Vice President Randy Newcomer. “Recovering, rather than burning, the liquids contained in the off-gas not only increases the value of the off-gas, but also results in a significant environmental benefit.”

Williams’ current operations at Fort McMurray and Redwater reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Alberta by about 219,000 tons each year. The operations also cut annual emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) by more than 3,200 tons. By processing the off-gas, Williams said its facilities annually prevent the release of CO2 emissions equal to the carbon footprint of 44,000 Albertans.

The contemplated expansion of its off-gas operations and ethane removal would further decrease CO2 and SO2 emissions associated with oilsands production, the company noted.

Several months of engineering studies are anticipated before Williams moves forward. Corporate approvals and commercial agreements would be completed if the projects are a go.

Williams recently signed nonbinding letters of intent specific to expansions it will evaluate. The company’s evaluation of ethane-recovery facilities is the subject of one agreement with NOVA Chemicals Corp.

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