Oil sands production has grown four-fold since 1990 and produced approximately 1.3 million barrels per day of bitumen and upgraded crude oil in 2007 and this will increase to 3.5 to 4.0 million barrels per day by 2020 through a capital expenditure of $250 Billion or more. The time is critical to undertake fundamental, transformative research that underpins the technical advances required to achieve this growth scenario and manage the environmental implications it represents.
The urgency in pursuing research on the reservoir-geomechanical response of unconventional reservoirs is demonstrated by a surface steam release incident experienced in a steam injection project in Northeastern Alberta in 2006. Early in the project life, a catastrophic release of steam from the reservoir depth to surface resulted in the creation of a damaged zone surrounding the steam release point of approximately 100 m in diameter where fractures were visible on the ground surface and trees were completely flattened. Field operators reported that the release event lasted under five minutes and “it sounded like a jet taking off”. The mechanics of the steam movement within the subsurface were dominated by reservoir-geomechanical processes such as fracturing, multiphase flow at elevated pressures within the oil sands reservoir and caprock strength integrity issues. Transformative research embodied in this proposal will provide industry with critically needed answers to these challenging questions and processes to help ensure events such as this are not repeated.