Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD)
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 and other Canadians 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), which many companies are using for commercial scale development of the oil sands.
Cenovus is a leader in the development of SAGD. It’s a simple process in concept but complex in application: steam is used to soften the oil deposits so they can separate from the sand and be pumped to the surface. The oil is then transported by pipeline to refineries in Canada and the U.S. and made into products like gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum-based materials, which are turned into the many products we use and rely on every day.
We currently have two major producing SAGD projects in the oil sands – Foster Creek and Christina Lake – as well as several projects that are in various stages of development. Foster Creek, our largest project, is considered among the best commercial and technical SAGD projects in the industry. It has the distinction of being the first commercial SAGD oil operation in Alberta. It was first initiated in 1996 and began full commercial operation in the fall of 2001. Our Christina Lake project began in 2000.
Working to improve
SAGD isn’t a single solution – it’s a complex technology that will keep improving as innovative advancements are made. One of our ongoing objectives is to advance technologies that increase oil production using the smallest amount of water, natural gas, electricity and land. In fact, we have dedicated people working on about 140 technology development projects in various stages.