Rising to the challenges

How do you get just the oil out of the oil sands when it’s compressed in sand, deep underground and can be as hard as a hockey puck? Our Rising to the challenges ad highlights how we’re overcoming those challenges.

View the TV ad

It wasn’t that long ago that drilling in the oil sands was thought to be impossible because most of the oil is embedded in sand deep underground. The breakthrough came when Dr. Roger Butler, an engineer with Imperial Oil, figured out that the oil could be separated and liquefied by injecting steam into the well. That led to technologies like steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD – pronounced SAG-DEE), a specialized technology we use to drill and pump the oil to the surface. We spend a lot of time learning about our oil sands reservoirs because each is unique and has different characteristics. For that reason, each of our projects requires new thinking to ensure we apply SAGD technology in the most efficient way.

Like any industry, we also face challenges when it comes to reducing our environmental impact. We’re focused on making smart environmental choices every day. We have a technology development team actively finding ways for us to be even better at what we do. It's challenging work, but we're persistent in our determination to continue to build and operate our projects efficiently and improve our performance.

How are we different?

Eighty percent of the oil in the oil sands is buried so deep, it can only be accessed by drilling. About 20 percent of the oil in the oil sands is close to the surface and is mined. We have no mining projects.

While drilling in the oil sands is still very much in its early stages, we’ve made some huge advancements to the technology in just a few short years. Advancements that have improved both our operational and environmental performance. We spend a significant amount of time learning about our oil sands reservoirs – each is unique and has different characteristics. We also test new ways to improve SAGD technologies and reduce our environmental footprint. It’s challenging work, but we’re persistent in our determination to continue to build and operate our projects efficiently and improve our performance. We’re tackling these challenges every day so we can be even better at what we do.

Find out more about Cenovus in the oil sands.

What about the environment?

We're using salty water wherever we can

Most of the water we use to generate the steam we inject is saline water. Saline water, because it’s salty, can’t be used for human or animal consumption, or for watering plants. We get this water from deep underground and recycle it over and over again in our production process. Less than five percent of the water we use in our oil sands operations is fresh. The fresh water comes from underground aquifers, not from lakes or rivers.

We’re striving for a low steam to oil ratio (SOR)

SOR measures the amount of steam used to produce a barrel of oil from the oil sands. A low SOR is a reflection of how we develop the resource, the efficiency with which we run our facilities and the quality of the reservoir. We’re always looking for ways to make the steam to oil ratio (SOR) as low as possible.

Our combined SOR at Christina Lake and Foster Creek in 2012 was 2.1, among the lowest in the industry.

We understand that environmental progress is integral to our long term resource development. Our environmental commitments guide our actions.

Find out more about our environment commitments.