Unlocking the Physics and Chemistry of Bitumen, Water, Solvent, and Porous Media Interfaces- an Enabling Technology for New Production Process Development

The oil sands industry currently faces significant challenges. Its social license is in question at a time when environmental regulation is tightening, all coupled with depressed oil prices and high capital costs for new projects. In the near term at least, oil sands-related activity will likely not focus heavily on development of new large-scale surface-facility capital projects. Instead, the focus will and should be on developing and applying new technology to improve the effectiveness of ongoing sub surface operations. Improvements to ultimate recoveries from reservoirs, improvement in energy efficiency (i.e. reduced steam-oil-ratio) in heterogeneous reservoirs, and the ability to access the parts of current producing fields that have production challenges such as top gas and bottom water. New insights into these problems will allow for extension and improvement of existing thermal operations, provide access to top gas/bottom water zones that are currently second tier resources, and promote the development of next generation production technologies with significantly lower environmental impacts. One leading suggestion to achieve these goals is the use of solvents combined with alternative technologies for steam generation.