Thermal In Situ Oil Sands

Thermal In Situ Oil Sands

Primrose Kirby Jackfish

Select Primrose/Wolf Lake, Kirby or Jackfish on the map to learn more about specific assets.

Canadian Natural holds some of the best thermal in situ oil sands assets in Canada, providing tremendous value and growth potential. Our thermal assets are located in two of the major oil sands deposits in Western Canada – the Athabasca and the Cold Lake deposits. Canadian Natural's oil sands deposits are in the form of bitumen, which in its natural state is too viscous to flow. When bitumen is too deep (>80 m) to economically mine, steam is injected to warm the bitumen, reducing the viscosity and allowing it to be pumped through surface wells. Only about 7% of Canada's oil sands can be mined; the majority has to be recovered using thermal in situ recovery.

Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD)

Canadian Natural is an industry leader, successfully implementing one of the first Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) programs in Canada at our Wolf Lake property. SAGD wells are drilled in pairs and use continuous steam injection to mobilize bitumen. As the figure below illustrates, steam is injected into the upper well mobilizing bitumen above it which then drains down to the lower production well due to gravity. The SAGD process allows for a high bitumen recovery factor, typically greater than 50%. SAGD operations require clean, continuous reservoirs and two wells resulting in a higher capital investment. This process will be the preferred production process for the McMurray formation at Canadian Natural’s Athabasca area fields.

Within the Athabasca deposits, the McMurray reservoir is our primary target and SAGD is the recovery process of choice. SAGD uses two well bores, one for continuous steaming and the other for continuous production. Within the Athabasca region, the majority of our assets are in the planning stages, which include Grouse, Ipiatik, Gregoire and Leismer. Today, Kirby South is one of the Company’s SAGD projects with production capacity near 40,000 bbl/d. At Kirby South, the solvent enhanced oil recovery technology pilot targets to increase oil recovery, reduce SOR by up to 50% and lower GHG intensity by up to 50%. To date, the Company continues to see positive results with increased bitumen production, lower SOR and high solvent recovery. This technology has the potential for application throughout the Company's extensive thermal in situ asset base. The next development at Kirby, Kirby North, was reinitiated for construction and drilling in late 2017 and achieved first oil in Q2/19.

Additionally, at the Company's Jackfish SAGD assets, productive capacity of 120,000 bbl/d provides significant opportunity for Canadian Natural to capture synergies in its thermal in situ portfolio.

Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS)

Canadian Natural also employs cyclic steam or "huff and puff" technology to develop bitumen resources. This technology requires one well bore and the production consists of two distinct phases:

  1. Injection - Steam is injected for several weeks, mobilizing cold bitumen
  2. Production – Flow is reversed, producing oil through the same well bore

The two phases together comprise one cycle. Steam is re-injected to begin a new cycle when oil production rates fall below a critical threshold due to the cooling of the reservoir.

Canadian Natural is a leader in the commercial application of horizontal well Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) as illustrated in the figure below.

CSS is a robust, proven technology adaptable to thinner inter-bedded reservoirs and requires only one well bore, resulting in reduced capital investment. CSS does have a lower recovery factor than SAGD but is the preferred production process in the Clearwater formation at Canadian Natural’s Wolf Lake and Primrose (North, South, and East) fields.