Christina Lake

Oil sands & heavy oil

Our oil sands assets in northern Alberta are the cornerstone of our Upstream production business. We’ve been operating in the oil sands for more than two decades, using a drilling method called steam-assisted gravity drainage – or SAGD for short.

Our oil sands and heavy oil operations

Cenovus launched the oil sands’ first commercial SAGD project in 2001 and has been a pioneer in the advancement of SAGD technology. We have no mining assets, tailings ponds or megaprojects. We have three producing oil sands projects in Alberta: Christina Lake, Foster Creek and Sunrise, as well as thermal and heavy oil operations at Lloydminster in Saskatchewan.

Visiting the oil sands made easy through virtual tours

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Christina Lake

Our 100% owned Christina Lake project is located approximately 150 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Construction began in 2000 with first production two years later.

Today, Christina Lake is the largest and most efficient SAGD project in the industry. It has a low steam to oil ratio (SOR), which means it uses less water and natural gas and creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions to produce a barrel of oil than other SAGD facilities of the same size.

Foster Creek

Our 100% owned Foster Creek project began operating as a pilot in 1997 and has been operating commercially since 2001. It was the first commercial oil sands project to use SAGD technology. It is located about 330 kilometres northeast of Edmonton on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range — an active Canadian military base.

We’ve developed many technology innovations at Foster Creek which have led to improved efficiency and environmental performance at all of our oil sands operations. Like Christina Lake, Foster Creek is one of the largest and most efficient SAGD projects in the industry with a low SOR and some of the highest producing wells in all of Canada.


The Sunrise project is 100% owned and operated by Cenovus. Sunrise is about 60 kilometres northeast of Fort McMurray, Alberta and its reservoir sits roughly 200 metres below the surface. The facility began operating in 2015.

Lloydminster Thermal

Our 100% owned and operated Lloydminster thermal facilities include 12 producing assets using SAGD technology. The production is supported by a network of facilities and pipelines in the region that transport oil from our field locations to our Lloydminster Upgrader, asphalt refinery and other Cenovus assets.

Interested in working in Lloydminster? Learn more.

Conventional Heavy Oil

We use cold heavy oil production with sand (called CHOPS) and Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) production technologies in our heavy oil operations in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

CHOPS involves the continuous production of sand in combination with pumps or other artificial lift systems to recover heavy oil from the reservoir.

How does steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) work?

Steam-assisted gravity drainage or SAGD (pronounced sag-DEE) is a relatively new technology that was developed in Alberta in the 1970s and commercialized in the 1990s to access oil sands deposits that are too deep to mine. SAGD uses advanced horizontal drilling techniques, combined with steam injection technology, to access oil sands reservoirs that can be hundreds of metres deep.

Our Foster Creek site was the first commercial SAGD project in the oil sands and Cenovus has been a pioneer in the SAGD industry. Using SAGD technology, we can access large underground oil sands reservoirs with a relatively small surface footprint.

We currently have three producing SAGD projects in the oil sands – Christina Lake, Foster Creek and Sunrise – as well as 12 SAGD sites in our Lloydminster thermal operations.

Watch this two-minute video to understand how SAGD works and why it is so important.