The expansion of heavy oil and bitumens production is limited by the lack of advanced upgrading facilities and technology. Surface processing, mainly by delayed coking and some hydroprocessing, is very capital intensive. This cost can be more than that for the reservoir engineering facilities. The THAI process achieves substantial upgrading of heavy crude oil directly in the reservoir, via thermal cracking and associated reaction transformations. It captures the underground upgrading because the horizontal producer well process operates via a ‘short-distance displacement mechanism’, similar to that which occurs in the SAGD process.

The results of a 3-D combustion cell test performed on Wolf Lake heavy oil are presented in the paper. Upgrading commenced as soon as the combustion front became anchored on the horizontal producer well. The produced oil viscosity was dramatically reduced, from 80,000 cSt, down to 50 cSt (average). The corresponding API gravity was increased from 10.1 to 20.4 °API (average). The quality of the produced oil was determined from a number of specific analyses, including TAN, Bromine number, SARA, and also water and gas analyses.

The first field pilot of the THAI process is to be conducted by WHITESANDS INSITU Ltd, the heavy oil division of Petrobank Energy and Resources Ltd., at Christina Lake, Alberta, Canada 1 . The pilot is scheduled to start early in 2006, and if the project is successful, the new THAI technology could revolutionize heavy oil recovery and upgrading.

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