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This article was originally published on The Calgary Herald.
Dingman No. 1 not only kick-started Alberta’s energy industry, it launched a century of locally grown entrepreneurism, research, and technology now used around the world.
Here is a look at what some longtime industry experts say are the biggest advances from large energy companies, oil and gas service companies, and collaborations between industry, government and universities.
Dr. Eddy Isaacs, CEO of provincial government funded Alberta Innovates — Energy and Environment Solutions. He has over 70 publications and six patents in the energy field. Isaacs has been instrumental in promoting innovation in energy and environment across Canada, and has served as co-chair of the Energy Technology Working Group of the Canadian Council of Energy Ministers:
1. SAGD (steam assisted gravity drainage) technology in the oilsands. The original patent was held by Imperial Oil but it was never exercised because it could only work once horizontal drilling was mastered. Both the horizontal drilling technology and the magnetic guidance technology that kept well bores closely parallel were Alberta innovations. This meant one well could inject steam and a closely parallel partner well could capture and produce the liberated oil. It’s also the best example of industry and government working together because Alberta Oilsands Technology and Research Authority (a precursor to Isaacs’ organization) was instrumental in the early days of horizontal drilling. It’s used today after being commercialized 12 years ago by Cenovus.
2. Horizontal wells are a French development perfected in Alberta in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Sperry Sun (later acquired by Haliburton), working in Leduc, developed a magnetic guidance method of keeping horizontal wells on the desired plane. Accurate horizontal drilling meant you could access a lot of reservoir instead of merely intersecting it with a vertical well. Today, 80 to 90 per cent of wells drilled around the world are horizontal. They’re also used in depleted fields to tap hard-to-reach oil and in “tight” rock formations, with hydraulic fracturing, to liberate trapped oil and gas.
3. Seismic technology. In the old days, the industry drilled dry hole after dry hole. New seismic technology sends vibration pulses through the earth and maps the rebound waves to identify potential hydrocarbon traps. Perfected in the last 20 to 30 years, seismic was developed by a University of Calgary research group and is used by everybody in the industry, worldwide, including the big two, Haliburton and Schlumberger.
4. Reservoir modelling. In the 1970s, the computer modelling foundation at U of C developed reservoir models that allowed companies to determine what injection practices they should use and what reservoir flow they would get. That group became a company called Computer Modelling Group Ltd.
5. CO2 Miscible Flooding (a form of enhanced oil recovery). Injected into depleted oil reservoirs, carbon dioxide (CO2) acts as a solvent to mobilize additional oil volumes so that they can be pumped to the surface. Calgary-based Cenovus established a CO2-EOR project at the Weyburn Oil Field in southern Saskatchewan in 2000. The project is expected to recover an additional 130 million barrels of oil, extending the life of the oilfield by 25 years.
Next big things:
1. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). With support from federal and provincial governments, Shell Canada is developing the first, fully integrated, commercial-scale CCS project in the oilsands. At its Scotford upgrading and refining site east of Edmonton, Shell is building a CCS unit that will capture 1.2 million tonnes per year of CO2 from its upgrader flue vents, compress it and inject it into a depleted gas reservoir. If successful, it will prove the feasibility of multiple CO2 capture and storage projects, aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, while providing valuable information about how to reduce the cost of future generations of CCS technology.
2. A significant amount of time and expertise is being put toward water treatment/tailings pond management. Thirteen companies — including Shell, Suncor, Cenovus, Imperial, CNRL — have signed an agreement to share intellectual property on environmental concerns as members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).
Mark Salkeld, president and CEO of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada with more than 30 years of domestic and international industry experience:
1. Rotary steering system allows you to steer the bit down hole. Early steel tools, called bent subs, were like shoehorns placed next to the bit on the drill string and used to push the bit sideways to turn it from vertical to horizontal. Rotation of the drill string had to be suspended, so that the bent sub was always pointing in the right direction, and the drill bit had to be turned by means of a “mud motor.” Today the bit can be steered within metres of accuracy with advanced magnetic telemetry systems. Drill strings can be turned continuously with no need to pull the bit and bent sub assembly out of the hole after turning.
2. Marriage of horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing.
3. Data collection and micro-sized analysis. Technology used to steer the drill bit to gather data through the drill stem is as close to real time as you can get. The data means you know what direction and where to steer the bit.
David Yager, national oilfield services leader at business consulting firm MNP. He is a founder of a now-global oilfield services company (Tesco) as well as other companies, former president of PSAC, and former co-owner/publisher/editor of oil trade magazine Roughneck.
1. Horizontal drilling was pioneered by Imperial Oil in the 1980s and the early tools were built in Nisku. Integration of vertical and directional drilling has been done by Alberta companies and few of today’s horizontal wells could be drilled without this. Alberta companies like Cathedral Energy Services and Phoenix Technology Services were leaders.
2. Multi-stage fracturing tools were pioneered in Canada and made horizontal drilling vastly more effective. Drilling horizontally reaches more of the pay zone with a single well. But if the oil doesn’t flow, you need to fracture the formation. Fracking one section of a horizontal well gives you only slightly more oil than a vertical well. You need to be able to fracture 10 to 40 sections of a horizontal well to access tight oil along its entire length. Canadian companies, including Packers Plus, have perfected the ability to place packers along the entire length of a horizontal well, closing two neighbouring packers at a time to isolate and fracture one section before moving on to fracture the next.
3. Top Drives have mostly replaced rotary tables to provide turning force to the drill string, so the drill bit cuts through rock formations. Top drives are located in the derrick, rather than the rig floor, and enable rigs to handle longer pipe sections for faster drilling and bit changing. Tesco led the development of top drives for land rigs, foreseeing that the ability to turn the drill string while pulling pipe out of the hole would be vital to efficient horizontal drilling.
4. World leaders in engineering, construction and fabrication, like Ledcor, started in the oilsands. Ledcor prepared the access road and well site for Imperial Oil’s discovery in Leduc and now employs more than 7,000 people across 20 offices throughout North America.
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