The Canadian Oil Sands: A Backgrounder: Emerging Technologies

by Bennett Jones LLP
Contact

Oil sands players are focusing most of their investment in technological innovation on mitigating extraction and other operating costs.

A number of existing and proposed projects are introducing variants on the traditional mining and in situ extraction methods, which are anticipated to reduce operating costs and decrease the environmental impact of operations. Most producers’ primary objective, particularly for in situ projects, is to lessen reliance on natural gas. A number of techniques have been developed:

  • Toe-to-Heel Air Injection (THAI™) – The THAI process ignites oil in the reservoir and creates a vertical wall of fire moving from the toe of the horizontal well toward the heel, which burns the heavier oil components and drives the lighter components into the production well. By creating heat in situ, the process requires no steam injection from the surface. The process has the potential to upgrade the bitumen in the reservoir; it could therefore substantially reduce production and capital costs, minimize usage of natural gas and fresh water and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. A study of the THAI injection method utilized by Petrobank at its Kerrobert project suggests that the recovery factor for proved plus probable reserves rises from 10 percent to 26 percent with the use of the technology.[1]
  • Asphaltene Injection – This technique uses asphaltene residue from the upgrader to produce the gas needed to generate steam and to power the upgrader as well as hydrogen required to feed the hydrocracker unit, the net result of which is a reduction in overall operating costs. This method is primarily associated with the Opti-Nexen Long Lake project, but a variant of this technology is expected to be deployed in the Synenco-Sinopec Northern Lights project.
  • VAPEX™ – This process is very similar to SAGD whereby two parallel wells are drilled. Where SAGD injects steam, VAPEX injects a vaporized hydrocarbon solvent such as ethane, propane or butane into the oil sand deposit, along with a displacement gas to thin the bitumen and allow it to be pumped to the surface. VAPEX burns no natural gas and requires no water processing or recycling. Its carbon dioxide emissions are lower and it can be operated at reservoir temperature with little to no heat loss. Devon Canada Corporation has been conducting field trials with the participation of the Alberta and Federal governments to develop and test the technology. N-Solv technology, similar to VAPEX, uses a solvent-based process that could potentially reduce capital costs by up to 50 percent and energy costs by up to 85 percent when compared to other in situ methods like SAGD.
  • Heavy Oil to Light Oil Upgrading Technology (HTL™) – In 2005, Ivanhoe Energy Inc. acquired the patented process for Rapid Thermal Processing (RTP™) and applied this process to upgrade heavy crude and bitumen. The upgrading process occurs at moderate temperatures, at atmospheric pressure and in the absence of air, to rapidly convert feedstock to high value output by using hot sand to facilitate thermal cracking. The end product requires no diluents or blending agents for pipeline transportation. The process has been successfully tested at a commercial demonstration facility in Bakersfield, California. It is hoped that HTL™ will solve some of the technical problems associated with traditional upgrading technologies and protect the producer from price fluctuations in blending agents and natural gas—all at a lower cost than traditional upgrading technologies. HTL™ will be employed at Ivanhoe’s Athabasca interests.
  • Mobile Ore Preparation Equipment – In its estimated $4.4-billion Voyageur South oil sands expansion, Suncor Energy Inc. is expected to use mobile ore preparation equipment instead of the current truck and shovel system. With the new technology, ore is fed with a shovel directly to a mobile ore preparation system that crushes the ore and drops it onto a portable conveyor system where it is then transported to a slurry facility that blends the mined product. From the facility, the blend undergoes hydro-transport through a pipeline that begins to separate the oil and sand through churning action as it makes its way to the central bitumen processing plant. Although costly, one of these machines can replace 15 mine trucks. This is expected to reduce the size of the mine-hauling truck fleet required to transport ore, which in turn reduces air emissions, noise pollution and the number of workers needed for transport.[2]
  • Liquid Addition to Steam for Enhanced Recovery (LASER) – After conducting pilot projects since 2002, Imperial Oil Ltd. began phased integration of LASER technology into their commercial operations at Cold Lake. LASER involves injecting light oil into the production well with the steam to enhance recovery, as compared to steam injection alone.
  • Solvent-Aided Process (SAP) – SAP involves a small amount of hydrocarbon solvent being added to the injected steam during SAGD. The solvent dilutes the oil to reduce its viscosity over and above what is accomplished by heating alone. Cenovus is planning to employ SAP to boost production at its proposed Narrows Lake project.

Investment in technological improvements has been critical to the viability of the oil sands industry. Our expectation is that innovation will continue to be focused on reducing reliance on natural gas, enhancing the efficiency of the upgrading process and mitigating environmental effects of both extraction and upgrading.



[1] Lauren Krugel, “Petrobank says its THAI heavy oil technology has reached ‘significant milestone’” The Canadian Press (10 March 2011)

[2] “Voyageur South” (February 2007) online: Suncor.com http://www.suncor.com/pdf/aboutus-VoyageurSouthPublicDisclosureDocument-e.pdf

 

 

Written by:

Bennett Jones LLP
Contact
more
less

Bennett Jones LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.
Feedback? Tell us what you think of the new jdsupra.com!