Operations start at new emissions-reducing oil sands project

Steam injection begins at Cold Lake Grand Rapids solvent-assisted SAGD facility

By Deborah Jaremko
Photo courtesy Imperial Oil Cold Lake/Facebook

The first oil sands project using a technology designed to reduce emissions per barrel by nearly half is officially up and running.  

Imperial Oil CEO Brad Corson confirmed the company started operations at its Grand Rapids project on December 1, one year ahead of schedule. 

“Grand Rapids production is expected to achieve an emissions intensity that is up to 40 per cent lower compared to existing cyclic steam technology in use today,” Corson told analysts on a call to discuss the company’s 2023 results. 

The project is at Imperial’s Cold Lake oil sands operation, which has produced oil since the 1980s.  

The new technology is an advancement in steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), which is responsible for nearly half of today’s oil sands production.   

“This is a big deal. This is really good to see, and I hope to see continued momentum,” said Bryan Helfenbaum, associate vice-president of clean energy with Alberta Innovates. 

In so-called solvent assisted SAGD, light hydrocarbons or “solvents” like diluent, propane or butane are injected deep underground along with steam to melt and mobilize thick bitumen deposits.  

It’s a bit like adding a thinner to a heavy paint.   

After an initial start-up phase expected to last through the first quarter of 2024, production is targeted to ramp up to 15,000 barrels per day. 

Corson says the company “has a whole pipeline” of solvent deployment potential at Cold Lake.   

“We’re continuing to explore future generations of opportunities that will allow us to not only grow production but do that in a lower cost way and also, quite importantly, with lower emissions intensity,” he says. 

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