At a SAGD development like Surmont, steam is injected into the ground to melt subsurface bitumen, which reduces its viscosity enough that it can be extracted. But before steam reaches the reservoir, it has to travel some distance, during which time heat naturally dissipates. To limit this heat loss, we’ve started installing vacuum-insulated tubing in our subsurface tubulars.
The reduced heat loss made possible by vacuum-insulated tubing means less steam is required to be generated, less source water is used, and less natural gas is burned to heat it. Consequently , both our water and greenhouse gas footprints are reduced.
This has operational benefits too. Before oil production can begin at a new well, it must be pre-warmed – a process which takes three to six months if unassisted. But with the reduction in heat lost to the environment while the steam is being transported, this pre-warming period is dramatically decreased.