Heavy Oil Pilot Creates A Buzz
Meridian Source - August 18, 2021
Radio frequency (RF) energy is being put to the test near Marwayne as a promising low-cost, low-carbon method of extracting heavy oil and bitumen.
Acceleware Ltd., a Calgary-based developer of electrification technology, kicked off the drilling and completions program of a commercial-scale RF XL pilot project on Tuesday.
“We’re pretty excited about finally getting in the ground and kicking that off,” said Acceleware CEO Geoff Clark.
Akita Drilling Ltd.’s rig 29 moved onto the Marwayne site on Aug. 9. The RF XL producer well was spudded three days later, followed by the heating well on Aug. 13.
“After the drilling and completions is done, we will regrade the site and put our facilities there and shortly after that, turn on the power and see if it works,” said Clark, targeting a mid to late October date.
The initial heating phase is planned to take approximately six months, but that may be extended to allow Acceleware to capture additional information on the efficiency and operation of the technology.
Clark says the industry is faced with the challenge to make the barrels produced in Alberta the lowest carbon intensity and maybe even more importantly, lowest water-use barrels in the world.
“I think we can do that. This industry in Alberta has shown remarkable resilience to innovate when they have to and to employ new technology, and we think we’ve got it,” he said.
“It’s one of the technologies that they should consider.”
RF energy heats and mobilizes heavy oil, including horizontal wells, up to 2 kilometres in length.
“The way radio frequency works is it seeks out water molecules, and water is in every reservoir to a certain extent. It heats up those water molecules and turns them to steam,” explained Clark.
Clark is confident RF heating technology will be half the capital cost compared to steam-assisted gravity draining (SAGD) production in oil sands, and he thinks it can have a pretty significant reduction in operating costs.
“There’s a benefit in carbon tax and things like that,” he added.
Clark says Acceleware has attracted interest in places like California that has significant resources of heavy oil, but lots of environmental concerns along with interest in Latin America and the Middle East.
Because RF XL eliminates the need for fresh water, that means fewer surface facilities are needed.
There is also less ground disturbance using RF XL, offering a cleaner and more sustainable solution to meet the world’s growing demand for energy.
“Oil companies big and small in Alberta are seeing they need to do something about that; they’re interested in becoming better performers on the environmental side,” said Clark.
“We think we have really good timing in terms of getting our technology in the ground right now.”
Acceleware’s RF XL electromagnetic heating technology is also designed to generate net-zero scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions when powered by renewable energy like solar or wind or clean nuclear.
At max power, the Marwayne pilot will use 2 Megawatts of electricity from the Alberta grid.
Clark says that’s the ideal amount of power per well pair in a commercial heavy oil well, with 4 to 6 MW for oilsands applications in Fort McMurray.
“In both cases, we feel it’s not just an environmental benefit that we’re giving the producer; we’re also giving them an economic benefit,” he said.
The pilot project is supported by $15.5 million in funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada, $5 million from Emissions Reductions Alberta and $5 million from Alberta Innovates.
Cenovus Energy and two other major oil sands companies chipped in $2 million each along with technical expertise.
“We think our producing partners are likely to be the next piloters of the technology on their own resources somewhere in Alberta,” said Clark.
Companies including Halliburton, Akita Drilling, Tristar Resource Management Ltd., Weatherford Canada Ltd., CES Energy Solutions, Precise Downhole Solutions, Tenaris, Stream-Flo Industries Ltd., Pro Pipe Service, and Variperm Energy Services Inc. are listed as partners in the drilling and completions program of the pilot.
If the pilot is successful, Acceleware aims to manufacture electronic systems including a clean-tech inverter on the surface and downhole components to producers.
“We are going to sell that to producers as well as some proprietary downhole components and provide optimization and maintenance services,” said Clark.