Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD)

It wasn’t that long ago that drilling in the oil sands was thought to be impossible. The oil in the oil sands can at times be as hard as a hockey puck and it’s embedded in tonnes of sand deep underground. We have to use a highly specialized process to get the oil out of the ground. It’s called steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD – pronounced SAG-DEE).

Cenovus is a leader in the development of SAGD. We don’t mine or use large-scale excavation of the land. We don’t have big trucks. And we don’t have tailings ponds. We drill.

Here’s how it works. We use steam to soften the oil so it melts away from the sand, deep below the ground. The water we use to make the steam is too salty to drink or use for agriculture. Then we pump the oil and water to the surface and we separate them. The water gets reused over and over to make new steam. The oil is sent by pipeline to refineries in Canada and the U.S. where it’s made into usable products like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, 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 is one of the largest and 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 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 100 technology development projects in various stages.