Innovations by oil sands producers are leading to improvements in energy efficiency
Alberta oil sands producers are reducing the carbon-intensity of their crude oil by using less steam, particularly in-situ operations, according to new figures from the National Energy Board.
In-situ oil sands production is projected to be one of Canada’s largest sources of future oil growth, as well as one of the key growth areas for natural gas use due to its energy-intensive process.
In order to remain competitive, in-situ producers are optimizing their operations with technological innovations that lower the steam oil ratio (SOR): the ratio of the volume of steam required to produce one unit of oil.
When natural gas is used to produce steam, the SOR becomes a measure of natural gas intensity, and a key indicator of an operation’s energy efficiency.
The figure below represents SOR for the Alberta in-situ industry over the past six years as measured by ‘aggregate production-weighted SOR’: the ratio of the annual steam usage vs. annual bitumen production.
The figure suggests that until recently, the effect of in-situ innovations on SAGD’s SOR was not observed. SAGD SORs were relatively flat from 2009 to 2013 then saw a 5.7 per cent reduction in 2014. This in-turn helped to decrease the SOR for All Thermal In-Situ SOR by 5.3 per cent in 2014, its best year-on-year improvement since 2010.
Data from January and February 2015 suggest a continued downward trend as All Thermal In-Situ’s SOR decreased 2.4 per cent below 2014 levels.
The recently released Energy Futures Supplement: Demand Sensitivities further discusses how trends in SOR efficiencies effect producers’ natural gas purchase requirements and could have large impacts on long-term natural gas demand.
In-situ innovations being adopted by producers include the use of flow control devices that direct steam more uniformly in the reservoir,injecting methane or solvent with steam, and drilling vertical infill wells, or “wedge wells” between older Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) wells to recover additional bitumen from beyond the existing boundaries of the steam chambers.
Category: New Technology & Innovation