In oil sands in situ operations using steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), achieving effective communication between the injector and producer with a reasonable conformance is crucial for the success of SAGD conversion and the following ramp-up phase. The start-up operation normally relies on heat conduction phenomena for establishing communication between the wells. For oil sands reservoirs containing extremely high viscosity bitumen, establishing the temperature profile required for SAGD conversion using conduction as the only heating mechanism is not efficient and can take 90 to 120 days to achieve. Start-up operation can be accelerated by enhancing the rate of convective heat transfer to the formation by techniques such as bullheading and cold/hot dilation.

At Nexen's Long Lake in-situ SAGD project, the use of higher injection pressures to enhance start-up is limited by the presence of high water saturation zones within the bitumen pay zone ("lean zones"), an adjacent Quaternary-age fresh water-bearing channel, and shallow formation depth. In order to overcome these constraints, an approach using solvent injection in a warm system with enhanced injectivity was successfully designed and implemented. In this approach, the solvent was injected in a high bitumen saturation system after circulating the well for about 70 days. Then, the solvent was chased with hot water into the formation to deliver the solvent deeper into the formation and enhance the rate of solvent-bitumen mixing during the soaking time.

This paper reviews the design criteria, well selection process, and implementation of warm solvent injection in the conducted pilot in the start-up phase of Pad 13 at Long Lake. It also compares production responses of solvent-treated and control wells with comparable reservoir properties within the same pad to evaluate the performance of the designed pilot. Review of the production data shows that the solvent-treated well pair has outperformed all the other well pairs of the pad with no apparent conformance issues. This well had a quick ramp-up which is considerably faster than the average ramp up time at the Long Lake project. The collected data suggests that applying solvent-assisted start-up in systems that have enhanced mobility by pre-circulation of steam can shorten the circulation time and accelerate the ramp-up phase after SAGD conversion.

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