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We pioneered oil sands development. Our early investments in technology helped unlock the potential of the oil sands by improving reliability and performance, expanding productivity and driving down costs while reducing our environmental footprint.
Today, technology remains fundamental to how we do business. Our investments in incremental and game-changing technologies target the following performance improvements:
- higher production
- enhanced profitability
- reduced environmental impacts
“When it comes to technology, there is no shortage of people with good ideas,” says Gary Bunio, general manager, technology development. “But there can be a gaping divide between conception and implementation. Our number one job is to find and develop the technologies that can be applied to our real-world challenges and then use them to meet our goals of increasing production, lowering costs and reducing our environmental footprint.”
Our technology and innovation strategy is focused in three key areas:
- continuous improvement – applying known techniques to existing issues (i.e., ongoing energy efficiency improvements across our business units)
- operations technology – applying new technologies to existing assets and issues (i.e., our ‘SAGD LITE’ initiative to improve steam/oil ratios at our in situ oil sands operations)
- strategic technology – applying breakthrough technologies in assets, processes and businesses (i.e., potential advances such as Oxyfuel, ESEIEH and N-Solv)
While all kinds of technology development are important and ongoing priorities, we are placing a renewed focus on breakthrough technologies. With these technologies, we aim for performance improvements of at least 25% in production, profitability, operational efficiency or environmental impact.
Timelines for technology development vary. Continuous improvement means exactly that. Operations technologies typically take one to three years to test and implement. By their very nature, strategic technologies are longer-term propositions that take decades from conception to implementation.
In some cases, we aggressively lead research and development of new technologies. In others, we collaborate through consortiums or third parties. We also monitor technologies being developed by external parties to determine if, and when, it makes sense to adapt them for our business.
"The common thread to all this,” says Gary, "is an emphasis on achieving tangible performance improvements. We need to focus our technology and innovation efforts where we know they will make a difference.”
In 2013, we spent approximately $150 million to support research and development of technology.
Some examples of our technology journey so far:
CIVITAS is the first commercially available fungus control and plant health product for the golf course industry that has a unique mode of action called Induced Systemic Resistance (ISR). CIVITAS products impact the plant working to treat diseases and prevent them from taking hold in the first place.
CIVITAS products are OMRI-listed for use in organic turfgrass management.
This new approach to managing mine tailings, developed in 2010, is focused on a de-watering process that will more rapidly turn fluid tailings ponds into solid landscapes suitable for reclamation.
TRO is a key tool in our efforts to progressively reclaim tailings ponds, allowing us to reclaim entire mine sites faster – resulting in the more rapid return of natural habitats.
Through our partnership with CO2 Capture Project, we are involved in a collaborative research and development project that could improve the prospects for implementing carbon capture and storage at in situ facilities. This technology produces a concentrated carbon dioxide (CO2) steam that is 'capture ready' and is, therefore, expected to avoid or eliminate substantial CO2 emissions at a reduced cost.
Hydrocarbon blanket gas and recovery system
Our hydrocarbon blanket gas and recovery system was installed on the Terra Nova offshore drilling platform in 2012.
Unlike conventional cargo systems which use inert gas to maintain a positive pressure in storage tanks and then vent that gas, along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), into the atmosphere during production, our system ‘blankets’ cargo tanks with pure hydrocarbon gas recovered during production and effectively eliminates the release of VOCs.
Through collaborative technology development, we are currently undertaking field tests on using a condensing solvent to extract bitumen, which could significantly reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The N-Solv pilot at Dover is currently operating with encouraging results.
SAGD LITE involves the addition of slight amounts of soap-like additives – surfactants – in the steam for steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) production.
A pilot project testing this technology was successfully operated at our MacKay River in situ field in 2013. Results were positive and the program is being extended. In addition, three other enhanced surfactants will be tested in 2014.
Autonomous haulage systems
In fall 2013, we began engineering tests for Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) at our mine site near Fort McMurray. Using GPS and perception technologies the trucks can operate in a continuous fashion and provide potential efficiencies in maintenance costs, reduced stoppages and fuel consumption, resulting in reduction in GHGs. The technology may also create opportunities for employees to upgrade their technical skills. Testing of AHS equipment is being performed in a tightly controlled mine environment. If we decided to proceed with using AHS on a commercial scale, progressive implementation would begin after 2017.
This pilot is testing a new method of in situ bitumen recovery using radio frequency heating and solvent to reduce energy, greenhouse gases and water use. Currently, a joint development partnership is doing a technology proof-of-concept project. Field pilot testing for ESEIEH is scheduled for 2014.
As part of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), we are leading a project investigating the potential benefits of using direct contact steam generation (DCSG) - a direct combustion process that generates a mixture of steam and CO2 that is then pumped underground. The process has the potential to reduce GHG emissions because a significant portion of the CO2 may be sequestered underground in the SAGD reservoir.
Water Technology Development Centre
As part of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), we are working to develop the Water Technology Development Centre (WTDC), which will advance new water treatment and recycling technologies for in situ oil sands development.
Construction of the WTDC is expected to begin in 2015 with opening planned for 2017.
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