Canada’s oil sands are one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon resources. The initial volume of crude bitumen in place is estimated to be approximately 260 billion cubic metres with 11 percent or 28 billion cubic metres recoverable under current economic conditions. Continually improving economics, bolstered by recent higher crude oil prices, has resulted in the International recognition of the vast potential of Canada’s oil sands. Based on publicly announced development plans through to 2015, over C$60 billion could be invested in numerous projects to develop the oil sands.

Various factors have to be considered to select the proper cement for zonal isolation of thermal recovery heavy-oil wells. First the cement should be flexible enough to withstand the stresses which occur when casing expands during the heating up of the well. To reduce these stresses, the cement thermal expansion coefficient should be similar to the thermal expansion coefficient of the casing. Finally, cement mechanical properties should not degrade during the whole steam injection process, i.e. when it is subjected to extremely high temperatures (up to 350 degC) for extended periods of time.

Specifically in Canada, the majority of the steam injection wells are drilled in shallow sandstone formations. This requires the cement to have high flexibility to resist the stresses. Moreover, during steam injection, a reaction between the sandstone formation and the cement sheath may occur, impacting the cement matrix and hence changing its properties.

This paper describes the application of a new thermally responsive cement for zonal isolation of heavy oil wells in Canada. This system is designed to have excellent strength, flexibility and thermal properties even upon interaction with sandstone formations. It minimizes the mechanical stresses exerted on the cement sheath during steam injection, thus reducing the risk of loss of well integrity. The numerical simulations performed with these long-term material properties (six months of exposure to 350 degC) for typical Canadian heavy oil wells conditions predict reliable and durable zonal isolation under these extreme conditions. These simulation results are confirmed by several field applications in wells which have not leaked after months of steam injection.

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