Technology and innovation are critical to our success. Despite the current commodity price challenges, our commitment to developing Canada’s resources in a safe and environmentally responsible manner remains a priority. Finding ways to develop technology in the most effective way possible is of even greater focus now as we work to both bring down costs and reduce our environmental impact.

We’re developing our own technologies as well as collaborating with peers, academics, other industries and entrepreneurs from around the world to find innovative solutions to the oil industry’s environmental and economic challenges. We’re being very strategic, focusing on technology projects that have the greatest chance of addressing cost and environmental challenges that we face in our operations – including emissions. At Cenovus, we know oil can be part of a clean energy future. That’s why we’re especially focused on technology and innovation to help us find both incremental and game-changing solutions to the challenge of CO2 emissions associated with oil production and consumption.


We use a method called steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) to get the oil out of the ground at our oil sands operations. We’re a leader in the development of SAGD and have achieved great success over the years with this technology. But we know SAGD isn’t a single solution – it’s a complex technology that we anticipate will keep improving as innovative solutions are found.

Watch this animation to learn how we use steam to separate oil from sand that's deep underground.

One of our objectives is to advance technologies that increase oil production using the least amount of water, energy and land. In 2015, we created a new design for our SAGD well pads. The design, called zero-base modules, is a simplified version of our previous well pad design and includes only the equipment required for a basic SAGD well. The rest of the equipment that will be used during each phase of the well lifecycle (i.e. spools, instrumentation, control valves, etc.) can be added, removed and reused on other modules as needed. With our previous design, all the equipment was built onto a well from the start. The new design allows us to customize the well and only use the equipment that’s needed at each stage. With the simplified template, we expect that there will be a 15 to 20 percent reduction in the amount of land that’s required for each of our well pads. We are using one design for all new well pads we are planning to bring on across Christina Lake, Foster Creek and eventually Narrows Lake. We have a patent pending on this new design.

Here are some of the other technologies we use to improve SAGD, and the potential environmental benefits of each technology:

Technology Description Benefits
Electric submersible pumps (ESPs)

During SAGD, we use underground pumps to bring the oil to surface. ESPs use electricity rather than natural gas to pump the oil.

Learn more about electric submersible pumps (ESPs) »

  • Reduced SOR
  • Fewer emissions
Solvent aided process (SAP)

Using SAP, a solvent such as butane is injected underground along with the steam during SAGD. The solvent helps thin the thick oil, allowing it to flow more freely to the producing well. We have regulatory approval to use SAP commercially at our Narrows Lake oil sands project. We’re also working on the next stage of SAP which will involve using a higher ratio of solvent to steam. The goal is to significantly reduce the amount of steam required. Using less steam will improve our SOR, reduce our water use and decrease the amount of energy needed, which results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. We have a patent pending on this improvement to SAP and plan to conduct a pilot project in our operations.

Learn more about solvent aided process (SAP) »

  • Reduced SOR
  • Less water
  • Fewer emissions
  • Less energy use
Blowdown boilers1

Blowdown boilers allow us to re-boil the water that’s left over from SAGD in a second generator to make additional steam. This re-boiling process increases the amount of steam we can create from the same barrel of water from about 80 percent in a typical boiler to about 93 percent.

Learn more about blowdown boilers1 »

  • Less water
  • Fewer emissions
  • Less energy use
Ultra high quality steam1

Ultra high quality steam technology improves water efficiency by allowing us to increase the amount of steam we can get from each barrel of water. Using the technology, we experiment with two variables:

  • Using less water which means less water is left over after steam creation
  • Using more heat which helps boil more of the water in our steam generators
  • More efficient use of water
Wedge Well™ technology1

Wedge Well™ technology allows us to access the wedge of oil that forms between well pairs during SAGD. A single horizontal well is drilled between the two SAGD well pairs so it can pump the excess oil to the surface.

Learn more about Wedge Well™ technology1 »

  • Reduced SOR
  • Less water
  • Fewer emissions
  • Less energy use
Flue gas recirculation

Flue gas recirculation recycles exhaust from steam generators used during SAGD. Using flue gas recirculation on once-through steam generators can reduce a facility’s NOx emissions by almost 50 percent.

Learn more about flue gas recirculation »

  • Fewer emissions

1 Patented technology.

Improving recovery techniques across our operations

Innovation is important across all our operations, not just in the oil sands. There is a variety of technologies we use at our conventional assets too. Since most of these assets are mature fields, technology helps us increase the amount of oil we can recover from the reservoir, while still being environmentally responsible. For example, at our Weyburn operations, we recover oil by injecting CO2 into the reservoir where it acts like a solvent and helps push more oil towards a producing well. We’ve safely injected more than 27 million tonnes of CO2 underground at Weyburn since 2000. That reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is equal to taking more than 5.7 million cars off the road for an entire year (4.75 metric tonnes of CO2 per car per year according to a U.S. EPA GHG Equivalencies Calculator updated March 2014). In the fall of 2015, we celebrated 15 years of storing carbon at our Weyburn operation.

Learn more about the technologies we use at our conventional assets: