For over 30 years, Imperial Oil Limited has been pioneering the extraction of a very heavy grade of oil known as bitumen from the Alberta oil sands in the Cold Lake area. For close to 10 years, a world scale commercial project has operated, employing a thermal recovery process known as "cyclic steam stimulation" (CSS). This process involves alternating periods of steam injection and production, both through the same wellbore.
The Cold Lake operation faces two challenges not typically experienced by conventional operations. First, substantial costs are incurred to generate steam, and treat water. Also, bitumen sells for less than light sweet crude. Consequently, margins are tight, and continuous unit cost improvements essential.
This paper describes the Cold Lake operation along with many of the innovations that have led to a one-third reduction in operating costs over the past decade.