Confessions of a Former Steam Addict
I am a recovering steam addict.
What’s our average steam quality? What is the max throughput of those lines? What wells can we pinch back to redistribute more steam to these new wells? What’s the average steam oil ratio? What’s the efficiency of the steam gens?
Daily conversations with the operations team were hyper-focused on steam output and maximizing injection to the SAGD wells. It was a simple equation: more steam, more oil.
I was indoctrinated into the school of greater volumes, higher quality and more efficient steam injection being the only answer—until I came to Acceleware. Is it possible to envision a waterless world? Is it possible to operate a more efficient process? Is it possible to stop fighting with a neighbouring operator over aquifer pressure? Is it possible to develop resource that is not in close proximity to source wells? Can we eliminate the painstaking process of water treatment and steam generation? Absolutely! This is RF XL!
Now interestingly, electromagnetic energy in the form of microwaves have been my friend for MANY years. From the tiny toddler days of anxiously watching my Mom warm my milk in the wee hours of the night. To the more desperate times in University, blurry eyed trying to warm a microwave dinner after 10 hours straight studying for a final exam with limited nourishment. The microwave was a convenient tool to make things hot, really fast!
After coming to Acceleware, I had to dig much deeper into understanding electromagnetic energy than my second year engineering textbooks had provided me. This was a bit foggy!! As well, following many years of working on SAGD reservoirs, I had to flip my mental model on energy transfer, and best practices to get oil out of ground. How could an underground source of electromagnetic energy from a radio frequency (RF) converter effectively heat an oil sand or heavy oil reservoir? “The steam is created in-situ?!” Genius but how?!”. How are these magical waves making oil?”. The best analogy that our Chief Scientific Officer Michal Okoniewski provided to me early on is the comparison of heating a kettle on a stove vs. a cup of water in the microwave. This makes sense, but how do we volumetrically heat? I recall asking. What is the drive?
The electromagnetic (EM) energy is generated at surface in our proprietary RF converter we designed in partnership with GE Research. It travels down to the reservoir, through electrically efficient co-axial lines and is introduced into the horizontal section of the well. Once into the reservoir, the EM energy travels through the formation. It “seeks out” polar molecules. Water is polar, oil and rock are not. (I do remember that from my chemistry classes!). The EM energy then vibrates the connate water molecules, which turns water into high quality steam and as a result of heat transfer the viscosity of the bitumen is reduced. This is similar to heating up that 3-year-old bottle of maple syrup, when an urgent hankering for pancakes arises.
Gravity drainage is a proven practice in SAGD. In the RF XL process, in addition to the bitumen becoming mobile, the EM radiation creates an energy field that acts on the entire volume of nearby reservoir. This energy field propagates into the surrounding reservoir, both horizontally and vertically, allowing for communication to be established between the EM radiators and the producer well early on. Once communication is established and the emulsion travels from the chamber interface down to the producer through gravity drainage, a subsurface voidage is created. This chamber is maintained as the energy intensity remains the highest near the heating well, continually re-vaporizing water. This feature of the design allows for the continued growth of the chamber and conversion of connate water into steam. Because no additional fluids are being injected into the wellbore, produced emulsion has a water cut in the range of 20-30%, much lower than the 60-75% observed at most SAGD projects. This reduction in produced volumes is another major advantage of our design, allowing smaller casing sizes, less fluid handling at surface and lower treating costs. A big win on the OPEX side!
Finally, the ‘steam-less’ RF XL well design is extremely robust, innovative and ground-breaking. I have had the fortune to be one of the engineers on the team developing, testing and de-risking our design. The result is a significantly more energy efficient process than SAGD, due to the streamlined transfer of electromagnetic energy. The well design allows for 95% of the energy at surface to be delivered to the pay zone. A SAGD design only allows for approximately 70% efficiency, due to losses during transport kilometres from the steam plant as well as thermal losses in the intermediate section of the well.
The RF XL well design and use of electromagnetic energy to energize connate water has eliminated the need for steam. Ah-ha—It is possible to break old habits! The introduction of the Acceleware technology into the in-situ and heavy oil development world is a gamechanger for those looking to reduce water usage and carbon footprint, while lowering operating complexities and costs. Here’s to changing those addictions and choosing clean living ‘aka—responsible resource development’.
About the Author:
Laura McIntyre - Vice President, Engineering
Laura is a Professional Engineer with over 15 years of diverse industry experience. The majority of her work has involved leading major thermal in-situ projects with both Devon Energy and Suncor Energy, which strategically positions her to advance the full-cycle development of Acceleware's RF XL technology from lab concept to field deployment. Throughout her career, Laura has held several senior technical roles and led successful teams across a broad range of operational areas, including drilling and completions, production, development and reservoir engineering. In her role with Acceleware, Laura holds primary responsibility for the successful execution of the RF XL commercial-scale test and the continued development of the Company's proprietary RF XL technology solutions. Laura earned a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Calgary and remains a passionate supporter of advancing opportunities for women in energy through mentorship and development initiatives.