The oil in the oil sands is a hard, thick substance called bitumen. One of the methods used to extract bitumen that is too deep to mine is called Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD). The technique involves drilling two horizontal wells into a reservoir, one on top of the other. Advanced technology is used to inject steam, combustion or other sources of heat into the reservoir to warm the bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface.
In SAGD operations, heat and pressure are lost from the steam chamber to the surrounding rock and over time, more steam is needed to be injected to recover the bitumen. This ‘over-steaming’ can result in higher steam-to-oil ratios (SOR) and higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Through non-condensable gas co-injection, a gas like methane is mixed with the steam and injected into the reservoir, which helps minimize steam and pressure loss and reduces SORs and GHGs. The technology has been piloted in several SAGD operations and has resulted in a greater than 15 per cent reduction of SOR.
Commercialization of this technology has the potential to further reduce GHG intensity in the oil sands and provide economic benefit to Canadians. Once fully deployed, production from current and future oil sands in situ development could potentially increase, increasing tax and royalty revenue and providing economic benefits across the country.