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Project Application

Timeline

Our estimated processing time will vary depending on the scope of the application. See our timeline spreadsheet for updates.

Purpose of the Application

The Government of Alberta defines partial upgrading as a process that reduces the thickness of oil sands bitumen so it can flow through pipelines more easily, without it having to be blended with diluent or as much diluent (a thinning agent).

Partial upgrading is different from full upgrading. Full upgrading is a process by which bitumen is converted into synthetic crude oil and other higher quality hydrocarbons. Full upgrading results in the removal of impurities such as heavy metals and sulphur.

We are authorized to review and approve partial upgrader applications under the following legislation:

We define and review partial upgraders as “processing plants” under OSCA section 1(r)(ii). ‘”Oil sands products” are defined in section 1(m) as meaning any products obtained by processing oil sands, crude bitumen, or derivatives of crude bitumen.

We define and review partial upgraders as “oil sands processing plants” under the Activities Designation Regulation of EPEA section 2(2)(pp) of division 2, schedule 1.

Standalone Partial Upgraders

A standalone partial upgrader is its own facility and is built on a new site. If applying for one, companies will need approval from us under OSCA, EPEA, PLA, and WA.

For more information on our PLA and WA requirements for partial upgraders, see the questions and answerssection at the bottom of this page.

We use the following requirements to approve or deny a company’s application:

See Part 1: New Plants and Facilities of the Guide to Content for Energy Project Applications before submitting an application for one under EPEA.

Integrated Partial Upgraders

An integrated partial upgrader is where partial upgrading technology has been added to an existing oil sands mining scheme. If applying for one, we’ll need to amend a company’s existing approvals from us. Companies may also need additional approvals, such as a PLA disposition or a new WA licence.

For more information on our PLA and WA requirements for partial upgraders, see the questions and answerssection at the bottom of this page.

We use the following requirements to approve or deny a company’s application:

  • Directive 023 (Draft): Oil Sands Project Applications
  • Directive 038: Noise Control, section 3.2. A summary letter can be submitted in place of a noise impact assessment report if the noise impact change is evaluated to be negligible at receptors or 1.5 kilometres away from the facility fence line (provided that there are no closer dwellings).

If a company needs to amend an EPEA application for an integrated partial upgrader, see Part 3: Amendments in the Guide to Content for Energy Project Applications.

Additional Information and Requirements

An environmental impact assessment report is required if the partial upgrader will produce more than 2000 cubic metres of crude bitumen or its derivatives per day. If it will produce less, we will determine if a report is needed. See Alberta Environment and Parks’ environmental assessment process for more information.

A licence under Directive 056: Energy Development Applications and Schedules is not required for partial upgraders related to mining operations.

Process Checklist

Submit an Application
Companies must email their applications to OSMining.Applications@aer.ca. Applications are registered using the Integrated Application Registry.

By submitting an application, the company accepts that its information is no longer confidential.

Review Process

  1. We share all applications on our Public Notice of Application page to encourage public participation in the approval process.
  2. Anyone who believes they may be directly and adversely affected by an application can file a statement of concern (SOC). If we receive an SOC, it may take us longer to process the application.
  3. We will assign the application to a subject matter expert for initial review. If information is missing (i.e., the application is not complete), we will close the application. Otherwise, we will proceed with a full technical review.
  4. We may request additional information (through a supplemental information request) to complete our technical review.
  5. When applicable, we will conduct a joint review with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
  6. We will decide to approve, close, or deny the application. If we close it, the applicant may reapply without prejudice. If we deny it, the applicant can file an appeal through our appeal process.
  7. We will give the applicant a link to the letter with our decision, which is accessible through the Integrated Application Registry. We will also share our decision on our Publication of Decision page.

Public Lands Act

Q: How do I get authorization for a partial upgrader under the Public Lands Act (PLA) if it is to be on vacant public land?
A: You should apply for a new PLA disposition. See our Public Lands Act page for more information.

The following mineral surface lease (MSL) or miscellaneous lease (MLL) disposition types apply to partial upgraders:

  • MSL – central processing facility or custom treating facility
  • MLL – central processing facility or custom treating facility

See the Public Lands Administration Regulation (PLAR) Table A2 for more information on purpose codes and requirements. If you need to talk with a land use officer before applying, email AERAuth.Mining@aer.ca.

Q: How do I get authorization for a partial upgrader under the PLA if the partial upgrader is partly on vacant public land, and partly on a disposition?
A: If the existing disposition has a compatible purpose code (see the previous question), you can submit an amendment to expand the disposition to cover the additional area.

If the existing disposition does not have a compatible purpose code, you must submit a new application with the correct purpose code.

If the new application overlaps the existing disposition, you must ensure the overlap is allowable. For example, an MSL or MLL cannot overlap other nonlinear dispositions that give exclusive rights; such as a MSL, MLL, pipeline installation lease (PIL), surface mineral lease (SML), department miscellaneous lease (DML), etc.

If the overlap is not allowable, you must be approved to amend the area to remove the existing disposition.

See our Public Lands Act page for more information on amendment applications.

Q: How can I get authorization under the PLA if the partial upgrader is on an existing disposition?
A: If the purpose code for the existing disposition is compatible for the use of a partial upgrader (see the first question) and the partial upgrader stays within the disposition boundary, no further authorization is needed. If the partial upgrader goes outside of the disposition boundary, please see the first question in this section.

If the partial upgrader falls on an existing disposition that has an incompatible purpose code (see the first question), you must submit a new application with the correct purpose code.

If the new application overlaps the existing disposition, you must ensure the overlap is allowable. For example, an MSL or MLL cannot overlap other nonlinear dispositions which give exclusive rights; such as a MSL, MLL, PIL, SML, DML, etc.

If the overlap is not allowable, you must be approved to amend the area to remove the existing disposition.

See our Public Lands Act page for more information on amendment applications.

Water Act

Q: Do I need a new Water Act licence for a partial upgrader?
A: Standalone Partial Upgraders

If your standalone partial upgrader needs water, you’ll need a new Water Act licence. You need a new Water Act licence for any increase to an existing allocation.

Integrated Partial Upgraders

You may be able to use water from Water Act licences previously issued for existing facilities, as long as the purpose of use stated in the licence agrees with the use of the water for the partial upgrader. Otherwise, you may need a new licence. 

For example, you can use an existing Water Act licence if the stated purpose on the licence is “industrial, utility, or process water” related. You cannot use an existing licence if the stated purpose is “make-up water” or “steam generation” related.

You need a new Water Act licence for any increase to an existing allocation.