​Suncor looks to proceed with ‘as close to commercial as possible’ solvent SAGD demonstration

Steam and bitumen emulsion pipes at Suncor Energy's Firebag SAGD project. Image: Deborah Jaremko/JWN

Suncor Energy is looking to take its testing of solvent-assisted SAGD technology to the next level with a new pilot application to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).

Solvent injection or co-injection is seen as one of the most significant opportunities for the oilsands industry to reduce its costs and environmental footprint, with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers recently stating it believes solvent technology development requires a joint industry/government approach akin to what enabled the commercialization of SAGD itself.

The variation on solvent injection that Suncor is testing, called expanding solvent SAGD (ES-SAGD) has undergone development by the company and its partners since 2001.

Like other SAGD solvent co-injection approaches by companies including Cenovus Energy and Imperial Oil, ES-SAGD is applied with the goal of improving efficiency and recovery rates while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Suncor applied to the AER in April to apply ES-SAGD on up to seven injection wells on one pad at its Firebag SAGD project. The technology demonstration would have up to three stages of development in order to assess its success.

If approved, the scheduled start-up date is in Q2/2018 and expected to run for up to two years.

“This technology demonstration will co-inject diluent as a solvent on a pad-scale, within a commercial SAGD operation,” says Russell Engelman, Suncor’s director of subsurface operational technology, upstream.

“The significant scope of this technology demonstration includes up to seven well pairs, which enables evaluation of the technology as close to a commercial scale as possible.”

He says the company will be looking at the technology’s performance relative to commercialization all through the demonstration.

“Following the three stages, the results of this technology demonstration will guide the progression to commercial deployment. This project will provide valuable information to validate the benefits of the ES-SAGD technology in support of advancing a full commercial scale solvent co-injection operation.”

Firebag is the currently the oilsands industry's largest SAGD operation, producing 202,800 bbls/d in the first quarter of 2017.

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