Canada has the third-largest oil reserves in the world, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Of Canada’s 173 billion barrels of oil reserves, 170 billion barrels are located in Alberta, and about 168 billion barrels are recoverable bitumen. Of them, 80% are recoverable by in-situ techniques where the Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) process is called to be the number one method of bitumen production for the next 15 years.
SAGD is an energy intensive process that requires optimization. The addition of hydrocarbon solvents such as propane, butane, hexane and diluents has been explored for the last 10 years as a form to improve oil production rates. In this research, the addition of surface active agents to the steam is studied as a novel way to increase oil production rates during SAGD.
The mechanism by which the surface active agents will increase bitumen production has been proposed as oil in water emulsification. It has been suggested that the emulsification process in the porous media is controlled mainly by the wettability of the rock rather than the interfacial tension and that water wet rock will lead to O/W emulsions. Laboratory experiments suggest that the addition of surface active agents to the steam increases oil production by means of O/W emulsions and that the recovery factor will be increased as well.
Finally the results of a field pilot are presented and they suggest that at field scale the addition of surface active agents has the potential to increase bitumen production during SAGD operations.