Every day, approximately 800 million cubic feet of gas is burned in the oil sands region of Alberta in the extraction and processing of heavy oil and bitumen (see Figure 1).1 The vast majority of this energy is used in the creation of steam for Cyclic and SAGD oil production processes for bitumen extraction from the oil sands. One of the main factors limiting further expansion of the oil sands and heavy oil development in the region is natural gas usage.
A dependable and predictable energy source is required for continued development of heavy oil and oil sands production in Alberta. Natural gas is currently the preferred source; however, the future availability of a natural gas supply for the region and the cost of that supply are unknown variables with significant economic ramifications. Economic justification of new projects under such conditions is, at best, challenging.
Alberta, and clearly the world, is sitting on a virtually unlimited supply of usable geothermal heat energy that would be an attractive solution to the oil sands energy source problem. The green aspects of geothermal energy are appealing for both ethical and political reasons. Of even greater importance to the bitumen producer is that geothermal energy has the potential to provide a significantly positive impact to project economics – the future availability of an energy source that is guaranteed and at a known cost.