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In Situ refers to methods of oil sands production that use drilling and steam to produce bitumen. The most common in situ method is called Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD).

IN SITU

Definition

In Situ comes from the latin term meaning “in position” or “on site” and refers to the oil sands technologies used to recover bitumen that lies too deep beneath the surface to be mined (more than 75 meters deep) and too viscous to flow on its own.  In situ production is required for approximately 80% of the bitumen found in the oil sands.  The most commonly used technology for in-situ production is Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD). Therfore, more emphasis in the article is placed on this technique. However, there are 3 other techniques also in use:

  • Cyclic Steam Simulation (CSS) – uses a single vertical well and the injection of steam to recover bitumen.
  • Toe to Heel Air Injection (THAI) – involves igniting air and injecting it into a vertical well to melt bitumen and recover it.
  • Vapour Extraction Process (VAPEX) - uses solvents to increase the viscosity of oil sands for recovery.
 
 

SAGD was invented in 1978.  SAGD works by drilling two horizontal wells beneath the surface, parallel to each other, about four to six meters apart. The top well is injected with steam that heats the surrounding bitumen, reducing its viscosity.  This is the Steam Assisted (SA) part of the name. The less-viscous bitumen then drains into the bottom well with the help of gravity and is pumped to the surface. This is the Gravity Drainage (GD) part of the name. The produced bitumen is mixed with hydrocarbons to further reduce its viscosity and is then stored in storage tanks for transportation and further processing[1]About Alberta's Oil Sands. (2014, January 1). Total E&P Canada -. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.total-ep-canada.com/upstream/about_oilsands.asp About Alberta's Oil Sands. (2014, January 1). Total E&P Canada -. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.total-ep-canada.com/upstream/about_oilsands.asp About Alberta's Oil Sands. (2014, January 1). Total E&P Canada -. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.total-ep-canada.com/upstream/about_oilsands.asp About Alberta's Oil Sands. (2014, January 1). Total E&P Canada -. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.total-ep-canada.com/upstream/about_oilsands.asp .

Context

SAGD has several advantages over oil sands mining. SAGD production has less land disturbance and does not result in the creation of tailings ponds.  However, SAGD requires large amounts of thermal energy to produce steam.  Currently the vast majority of this energy is provided by natural gas, a non-renewable and hydrocarbon fuel source, making greenhouse gas emissions a key concern[2]GO Productivity "Lessons Learned from Execution of Oil Sand's SAGD Projects" (2014) http://goproductivity.ca/GO Productivity "Lessons Learned from Execution of Oil Sand's SAGD Projects" (2014) http://goproductivity.ca/GO Productivity "Lessons Learned from Execution of Oil Sand's SAGD Projects" (2014) http://goproductivity.ca/GO Productivity "Lessons Learned from Execution of Oil Sand's SAGD Projects" (2014) http://goproductivity.ca/.

In addition, water use is another important concern.  The SAGD process requires a significant amount of water, although 80 to 95 percent of the water used is recycled back into the process. Some SAGD operations also use saline water that is determined to be unsuitable for drinking or irrigation purposes in order to minimize the use of fresh water[3]Using Undrinkable Saline Water in SAGD. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.capp.ca/energySupply/innovationStories/Water/Pages/usingUndrinkableWater.aspx Using Undrinkable Saline Water in SAGD. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.capp.ca/energySupply/innovationStories/Water/Pages/usingUndrinkableWater.aspx Using Undrinkable Saline Water in SAGD. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.capp.ca/energySupply/innovationStories/Water/Pages/usingUndrinkableWater.aspx Using Undrinkable Saline Water in SAGD. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.capp.ca/energySupply/innovationStories/Water/Pages/usingUndrinkableWater.aspx .

References

  1. ^ About Alberta's Oil Sands. (2014, January 1). Total E&P Canada -. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.total-ep-canada.com/upstream/about_oilsands.asp 
  2. ^ GO Productivity "Lessons Learned from Execution of Oil Sand's SAGD Projects" (2014) http://goproductivity.ca/
  3. ^ Using Undrinkable Saline Water in SAGD. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.capp.ca/energySupply/innovationStories/Water/Pages/usingUndrinkableWater.aspx 
 
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INTERNATIONAL OR PROMINENT INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

National Petroleum Council (US)

Canadian Heavy Oil Association (CHOA)

International Council on Mining and Metals

Society of Petroleum Engineers

International Minerals & Mining Association

U.S. National Mining Association

RESEARCH INSTITUTION

Canadian Energy Research Institute 

Total-EP Canada

Alberta's Petroleum Heritage Edukits

Canadian Centre for Energy Information

ACADEMIC JOURNAL

Oil & Gas Journal

Oil Sands Review

Energy

Energy & Fuels

Journal of Geology and Mining Research

HISTORY

Oil Sands Discovery Centre

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)

SunCor

University of Alberta

Fuel Chemistry Division 

CRS Report for Congress - North American Oil Sands: History of Development, Prospects for the Future

POLITICS

Alberta Oil Magazine

Alberta Government - Rules, Reports and Regulations

The Economist - Oil sands

Alberta Energy Regulator

Parlee - Avoiding the Resource Curse: Indigenous Communities and Canada’s Oil Sands

ECONOMICS

Alberta Energy: Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat

The Oil Sands Developers Group

Alberta Government - Alberta's Oil Sands 

Canadian Energy Research Institute - Refining Bitumen: Costs, Benefits and Analysis

Canadian Energy Research Institute - Economic Impacts of New Oil Sands Projects in Alberta (2010-2035)

TECHNOLOGY

Total Energy

Alberta Tech Futures

Alberta Energy

Teledyne ISCO

MEG Energy

Stanford

How SAGD Works | Cenovus Energy

Talk About SAGD | Alberta Energy

SAGD 3D Animation | CAPP

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

In Situ Report Card | Pembina Institute

Alberta Centre for Reclamation and Restoration Ecology

Water Matters 

Total-EP Canada

Canadian Energy Research Institute - Oil Sands Environmental Impacts

The Royal Society of Canada - Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada's Oil Sands Industry

Alberta Government - Oil Sands Environmental Management

BUSINESS ANALYSIS

Alberta Energy: Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat

Canada's National Energy Board

IHS - The Role of the Canadian Oil Sands in the US Market

HEALTH IMPACT

The Globe and Mail - Oil-sands link to health concerns

The Royal Society of Canada - Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada's Oil Sands Industry

SUSTAINABILITY

BP

Canadian Oil Sands

Oil Sands Review

OTHER INTERESTING ESSAYS/ARTICLES

Suncor

Bloomberg

The Wall Street Journal

New York Times

NASA

Oil Sands Review

The Wall Street Journal

Huffington Post - Alberta Oil Sands Articles

Financial Post - Majority of oil sands ownership and profits are foreign, says analysis

Take a Step Back

Oil Sands

Oil Sands is a form of heavy oil found in sand and rock primarily in the Athabasca region of Northern Alberta, Canada.

Heavy Oil

Heavy Oil is a form of unconventional oil that is thick and highly viscous, and therefore does not flow to production wells under normal reservoir conditions.

Unconventional Oil

Unconventional Oil refers to crude oil that is not produced by traditional extraction methods. This includes but is not limited to offshore, oil sands, and tight oil.

Keep Learning! Progress To

Oil Sands Mining

Mining refers to the oil sands extraction process whereby large amounts of earth are removed, mixed with water and transported by pipeline to a plant, where the bitumen is separated.

Oil Transport

Oil Transport refers to the various methods of transportation used to move oil from one location to another. These include pipelines, rail, shipping, and trucking.

Oil Storage

Oil Storage refers to tanks or terminals (a group of tanks) used to store produced oil above or below ground.