Sturgeon Refinery


The Sturgeon Refinery commenced commercial operation in June 2020. The timeline below shows some of the most important milestones from early site preparation in 2012 all the way to full operation in 2020.

As the first refinery built in Canada since the 1980s, the construction, commissioning, start up, and full operation of the Sturgeon Refinery is an important accomplishment for the province and country.

Learn more about the importance of Canada’s newest refinery
Oct 2012
Construction Trailers

Site Preparation

Work accomplished at the Project site to the end of September 2012 includes site survey work, completion of geotechnical borehole investigations and test excavations, removal of certain interfering pre-existing infrastructure, set up of site radio tower pad, and site dewatering and drainage maintenance.

Nov 2012

Sturgeon Refinery Project Phase 1 Sanctioned

NWR will build and operate a world class bitumen refinery in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, which will add significant value to Alberta’s bitumen resources.

Jun 2013

Expansion of NWR Office in the Town of Redwater

NWR completes expansion of its office space within the Town of Redwater, and will accommodate approx. 45 persons working off the Project site, preparing for facility startup and operations.

Jun 2013

Site Grading Contract Awarded

Major contractor awarded to regional contractor for site grading.  Foundation preparation work commenced for  Reactor Vessel assembly building.  Pipeline re-route work as well as  parking lot and infrastructure construction commenced.

Aug 2013

First Pour

Concrete for the first foundation poured.

Aug 2013

Vessel Delivery

NWR takes delivery of vessel segments and construction begins on vessel assembly building necessary for final assembly. Final welding assembly done on-site.

Sep 2013

Sturgeon Refinery Project Celebrates Groundbreaking

North West Redwater Partnership (NWR), a partnership between North West Upgrading Inc. (NWU) and Canadian Natural Upgrading Limited (CNUL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian Natural Resources Limited (Canadian Natural), celebrates ground-breaking of the Sturgeon Refinery, located in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland.

Nov 2013
Excavator and Rock truck

Rough Grade Established

Rough grade has been established over much of the project site.  Construction trailers, craft parking lots, internal roadways, deep underground supply and drain piping, and various process water ponds put in place.

Nov 2013

Legacy Pipeline Moved

Legacy pipeline interfering with site development relocated to the perimeter of the site and re-commissioned.

Nov 2013

Piling Program Starts

Preliminary piling program underway to allow load tests and noise tests for piling program.

Jan 2014

North Assembly Yard Complete

Jan 2014
RAB Building

Delivery of Reactor Segements

With the reactor assembly building (RAB) now fully-enclosed, the vessel segments, which weigh as much as 1 million pounds per section, were shipped by special rail cars to a nearby rail siding.

Jan 2014

Piling Completed on Administration and Firehall Buildings

Foundation piling completed for the control/administration and firehall/warehouse buildings, and pile caps, grade beam.

Jan 2014

Orientation and Medical Complexes Complete

Installation of the site orientation and medical complexes completed.

Jan 2014

Communications Tower

Erection of the site communications tower completed.

Jan 2014

Contract Awards

Awards for major Engineering Procurement and Construction contracts for various process units made.

Mar 2014
Reactor Vessel on a trailer

Major Equipment Arrives at Site

Major equipment arrives at site with the delivery to the Project site of the heavy-walled ‘reactor’ pressure vessel segments, desalter vessels, and other long-lead materials.

Apr 2014

Goal Zero Continues

NWR’s Health Safety and Environment – ‘GOAL ZERO’ continues with no site lost time injuries.

Apr 2014

Contracts in Place

Contracts in place for all major process units.

Apr 2014

RAB Building Complete

Reactor assembly building (RAB) complete and final welding assembly of the reactor segments  commence. Final welding of the reactor segments within the RAB continue through 2014.

Apr 2014

Air Separation Unit and Electrical Substation Area Turned Over

Areas required for the construction of the Air Separation Unit and the Electrical Substation prepared for turnover to the third-party owner/operators of those facilities.

Jul 2014

Brass Alley Facilities

‘Brass alley’ facilities required for logistical entry/exit control of large numbers of site workers in place and in use.

Jul 2014

Goal Zero Continues

NWR’s Health Safety and Environment ‘GOAL ZERO’ continues with no site lost time injuries to date.

Jul 2014

Process Unit Contracts Awarded

Contracts in place for the engineering, procurement and construction of all major process units.

Sep 2014

Piling Program Continues

Over 1,500 cast-in-place, helical or driven steel piles installed in process unit areas, at the electrical substation, or at the air separation unit (ASU).

Sep 2014

Batch Plan Operational

Concrete batch plant set up at site to provide for foundation concrete pours, reducing the numbers of pre-mix trucks travelling regional roadways.

Sep 2014

Bussing Program Begins

Bussing program begins September 15th, transporting workers from designated regional pick up areas to the project site. Program will help reduce personal vehicle travel to the refinery site, reducing traffic congestion pressures, and will expand as the workforce continues to grow.

Oct 2014

Vacuum Tower Arrives

The large crude Vacuum Tower arrives at site on a heavy platform trailer.

Nov 2014

Reactor Vessel Tested

Welding and testing completed on the first of the heavy reactor vessels and moved out of the Reactor Assembly Building (RAB).

Nov 2014

Substation Construction

Construction on the electrical substation approx. 2/3 complete and construction on towers for the short 240 kV transmission line to feed power to the Refinery begins.

Dec 2014

First Main Piperack Arrives on Site

Dec 2014

Assembly of Mammoet's Large Crawler Cranes Commence

Jan 2015

Goal Zero Continues

NWR’s Health Safety and Environment ‘Goal Zero’ continues, with over 2 million hours spent at site with no lost time injuries.

Jan 2015

Heavy Lift Program

Major cranes assembled at site to allow for the heavy lifts required to place modules and major equipment.

Mar 2015

First Boiler Set

Apr 2015

240kV Energized

The 240 kV electrical transmission lines energized.

Apr 2015

Waste Recycling Program Funds Community Investment

More than 98% of construction waste is recycled. Funds received from recycle activities are directed to Community and Charitable Donations program.

Apr 2015

LCF Reactors Set

LCF Reactors set in Hydro-Processing Unit.

May 2015

Cracking Reactor Erected

Cracking Reactor set in Hydro-Processing.

Jun 2015

First Super Mod Placed

Jul 2015

Bussing Program Grows

61 routes currently in place transporting approximately 2,100 workers to and from the work site.

Aug 2015

Modular Program

To date more than 300 modules have been delivered to site with over 230 having been placed on foundations.  More than 600 additional modules are standing in various stages of assembly at various module shops.  Nearly 3,000 workers are employed at the 10 shops constructing modules for the Refinery.

Aug 2015

Modular Installation

Installation is complete for all super-module pipe rack assemblies for the major north-south pipe rack.  to date over 9,000 piles and over 37,000m3 of concrete have been placed to facilitate ongoing refinery assembly.

Feb 2016

Bussing Program Expands

NWR’s bussing program continues to expand to accommodate increasing ridership. Eighty five routes are currently in place safely transporting over 2,700 workers per day from throughout the Capital region to and from the site. This successful program continues to expand to accommodate growth in ridership.

Feb 2016

Control/Administration Building

The municipal effluent lift station and potable water connections have been completed and commissioned allowing turnover and occupancy of the Control/Administration Building and Firehall/Warehouse Building by operations personnel.

Feb 2016

Modular Program

To date approximately 400 modules have been installed with more than 600 additional modules standing in various stages of assembly at module fabrication shops. Module delivery and assembly into the Refinery will continue throughout 2016. Pipe rack installation continues to advance into all process unit areas of the Refinery with crews working on inter-connecting welds for the modules end-to-end connection. Module and equipment construction, receipt and placement at site will continue through the balance of 2015 and 2016.

May 2016

Module Program Continues

Of the more than 1,000 modules being manufactured for the Sturgeon Refinery, more than 70% have been received at the site, and more than 60% of the total having been set in their final locations. All remaining modules are standing at various stages of completion at their manufacturing facilities, and it is targeted that all modules will have been completed and shipped to site by the end of September. At this time, approximately 3,000 workers in Edmonton-area fabrication shops remain engaged in manufacturing modules for the Project. Module and equipment receipt and installation will continue through the balance of 2016 and into 2017 as scheduled. Insulation on process tanks continues, as does cable-pulling for power cables throughout the site.

Aug 2016

Flare Stack Set

The process flare stack, the tallest structure for the Sturgeon Refinery site, has now been set and connected to the flare system. Insulation of process tanks and equipment continues. Energization of Powered Equipment Buildings throughout the refinery site continues which allows for the planning of motor bumps to begin. The Integration, Commissioning and Start-Up (ICSU) staff have taken custody of the Raw Water and Fire Water buildings, and have also begun to air blow and ensure cleanliness of the earliest pipes turned over to them from the construction teams.

Jul 2017

Steam Blows

Steam can be seen from the three boilers and several of the units on site as the facility is cleaned during commissioning and start up. Steam will be used for processing bitumen once the refinery is fully operational.

Dec 2017

First Diesel from the Sturgeon Refinery

Community organizations celebrated with NWR at our announcement of first diesel in December at UFA in Morinville. With the majority of the refinery built, it is able to process synthetic crude oil into diesel and other value added products. Using a partially upgraded feedstock such as synthetic crude is part of the commissioning and start up process. This allows for testing and adjustments in the units that are functioning. Once the refinery is fully operational, it will use bitumen feedstock to complete the entire refining process from start to finish.


Dec 2017

Bussing Program Concludes

With a substantial decrease in workforce numbers, the bussing program came to an end in December. All totaled, the kilometres logged by the busses equal over 350 trips around the earth – that’s one per day for nearly a year.

Mar 2018

Over 50 Million Hours Logged at Refinery

Since 2011, over 50 million hours have been worked on the project. For the average person who works a regular 40 hour week for 52 weeks a year, it would take over 24,000 years to work that many hours. At peak construction, over 8,000 workers were on site every day, with that number dropping to approximately 2,500 people per day currently. The majority of those are involved in finishing construction activities. Various positions required for long term operations still need to be hired, though most of the 400+ people are already in place.

May 2018

Construction Complete

The refinery is made up of ten large units, each one with a specialized function in the bitumen refining process. All ten units are now constructed, with some completed last year and the final unit completed just these past few weeks. As units are completed, the commissioning process begins for that unit. Commissioning involves checking, inspecting, and testing all components and making any necessary adjustments. Motors are started, temperature and pressure gauges are calibrated, gases such as nitrogen and oxygen are brought in, and final cleaning is completed, among hundreds of other activities.

Aug 2018

Production Hits 6 Million Barrels of Diesel

Since November 2017, the Sturgeon Refinery has been processing synthetic crude oil into diesel and other valuable products as part of the commissioning and start up process. Recently, total diesel production hit 6 million barrels. That’s enough diesel to fuel up 4 million fire trucks or 1 million combines for this fall’s agriculture harvest.

Sep 2018

Community Investment Reaches $500,000

Over 95% of waste was recycled instead of sent to landfills during the construction of the Sturgeon Refinery near Redwater. Some items such as copper wire, scrap metal, and beverage containers were returned for a refund, and those funds were earmarked for community investment. The intent was to be the kind of neighbour the community wants to have in the region by supporting non-profits, schools, and programs while reducing our environmental footprint. All that waste was turned into half a million dollars of worth that can be seen in local playgrounds, food banks, 4-H public speaking, town festivals, library technology, seniors mentoring, youth athlete training, and more.

Nov 2018

Ten New Projects find Value in Waste

Our region will get a bit greener and cleaner as ten new local projects receive funding to help reduce waste in our communities. Recipients submitted ideas to the Waste into Worth Challenge hosted by North West Redwater Partnership (NWR). Ten winners were chosen based on creativity, impact on the community, and the ability to turn waste into something of value.


Nov 2018

Focus Remains on Completing Safe Start Up

Diesel production from synthetic crude oil continues at the Sturgeon Refinery as the light oil units maintain safe, steady, and reliable operations. The refinery has produced over 7.7 million barrels of diesel since production began a year ago as part of commissioning and start-up.

While the refinery is designed to process bitumen, work remains on two final units in order to operate as designed. The target for processing bitumen in the refinery is year-end. All teams are working hard to achieve this goal knowing it is a key major milestone for the refinery to operate as designed.

Jul 2019

NWR celebrates 1 million hours of injury-free work

NWR reached 1 million hours of recordable injury-free work; that is 197 days and 1,174,469 exposure hours from December 22, 2018, to July 7, 2019.

This milestone is a testament to our health and safety commitment, which is exercised by both NWR and Contractor teams.

Oct 2019


Shutdown 2019 is complete and it generated 25 million in wages, 200 inspections, 75% spending in the capital region, 20 different skilled trades and 390,000 hours of employment.

Dec 2019


A happy group of Furniture Bank volunteers accepts the donation from NWR to help with the ongoing costs of their community organization.


Dec 2019

December Update

Maintenance shutdown is complete; refinery start-up underway on synthetic crude oil to produce ultra-low sulphur diesel. Additional work is progressing to prep the gasifier unit for start-up in early 2020. Bitumen processing will begin in 2020.

Feb 2020

February Update

The refinery started up successfully on synthetic crude oil feedstock following the conclusion of the maintenance shutdown this past December. Target production rates have been achieved for ultra sulphur diesel and other products. The start-up of the Gasifier unit also progressed well in February, and the team is monitoring and adjusting as necessary to prepare for bitumen processing which will take place in the coming months.

May 2020

COD Achieved

The criteria for meeting Commercial Operations Date was achieved on May 15, 2020. This means that effective June 1, 2020, the Sturgeon Refinery shall be processing bitumen on behalf of Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission and Canadian Natural Resources Limited through a fee-for-service tolling mechanism under their respective Processing Agreements.