Shell to fuel oil sands operations with natural gas

HOUSTON — Royal Dutch Shell will test new engines running on liquefied natural gas for its mining operations in Canada’s oil sands fields, the company said Monday.

Shell will team up with Caterpillar to deploy the new technology in its mining trucks by 2016, running them mostly on natural gas instead of diesel. The engines will still use some diesel.

The switch will slash fuel costs while also having the benefit of lowering emissions in oil sands operations, which involve higher emissions than other forms of oil production.

“To succeed commercially in the future, we believe we have to be able to compete both economically and environmentally, “ said John Rhind, Shell’s vice president of oil sands, in a statement. “We believe that is what Canadians want.”

High-horsepower: Natural gas faces a long road to overtake diesel

Caterpillar is in the midst of an effort to build new engines for its enormous and powerful mining trucks, which often run 24 hours daily and consume huge quantities of fuel. The trucks are popular worldwide, and Caterpillar customers increasingly have inquired about running them on natural gas instead of diesel, which is more expensive.

“Many of our customers are asking for natural-gas powered equipment in order to reap the financial and environmental benefits,” said Chris Curfman, Caterpillar’s vice president responsible for mining sales and support, in a statement. “This agreement further builds upon our efforts in delivering cost effective, reliable and innovative solutions to our customers.”

Mining trucks are used substantially in oil sands fields.

“With heavy hauling being such a core part of our operation, success with this could make a real difference in our operations costs and emissions,” Rhind said.

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