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Oil sands 101 - drilling

From start to finish

Oil sands drilling projects span decades.

Plan it

2 – 4 years

Once the rights are acquired to produce the oil, companies have to figure out how to get it out of the ground safely and economically while minimizing the environmental impact.

At Cenovus, we collaborate with third-party environmental consultants to assess the area to understand every aspect of the land. Our planners, environmental experts and engineers use this information to work on the design of the project. And our financial people crunch the numbers. We apply our expertise to review potential impacts to air, land, water and wildlife, and create an extensive plan to ensure we develop the project responsibly.

Submit it

2 – 4 years

We then submit the plan to the regulators for review. We also continue to consult with Aboriginal and other local communities to answer questions and address concerns about the project.

It’s the regulators’ job to determine whether a project is in the public’s best interest – and they approve or decline a proposed project.

Build it

Multiple years

Upon approval, we start to build the project. Our projects are built in phases.

Construction includes building access roads, a plant, pipelines and accommodations for staff who will live and work at the site. We try to keep that footprint as small as we can.

Drill it

Throughout the project

Scientific techniques help us determine the ideal locations to drill our wells to access the oil.

Several wells are drilled together in one location to minimize our footprint.

Operate it

30+ years

We use specialized methods to pump the oil to the surface.

Then the oil is sent to the plant, where it’s processed so it can be transported to refineries. We monitor our operations – including any potential impacts to the environment, like air, land, water and wildlife. We then use this information to make improvements to the process to increase efficiency and reduce our environmental impact.

Reclaim it

40 – 50+ years

Once we’ve recovered as much oil from the site as possible, we reclaim the land to a condition comparable to the undisturbed land around it. That’s our commitment – and it’s the law.

Since each project can be operational for 30 years or more, reclamation takes time. Once the equipment and infrastructure are removed, we plant trees and other vegetation if needed, and then let nature take its course. Depending on how the project was constructed, we don’t always have to wait until the entire project is finished before we start to reclaim the land. If there’s an area we no longer need to access, we can restore it even though other areas around it are still in use.