Canadian Manufacturing

Cenovus taking steps to improve performance at Foster Creek oil sands project

Lowering the steam-to-oil ratio would reduce environmental impact—and cost



CALGARY—Cenovus Energy Inc. says it’s taking steps to improve performance at its Foster Creek oil sands project, which has been sucking up more steam than the company would like.

“Foster Creek is a great reservoir and we believe it is capable of supporting production over 300,000 barrels per day,” CEO Brian Ferguson told analysts on a conference call Thursday.

“As with all our projects, our objective at Foster Creek is to achieve the best returns possible for our shareholders.”

At the oil sands site in northeastern Alberta, it took Cenovus 2.5 barrels of steam to produce a barrel of crude in 2013, up from a steam-to-oil ratio of 2.2 a year earlier. As well, output from the site dropped eight per cent year-over-year to 53,000 barrels per day.

Steam-to-oil ratios, or SORs, are a closely-watched number for companies like Cenovus, which heat up the bitumen while it’s still underground before drawing it to the surface, rather than extract it in open-pit mines. The lower the SOR, the lower the cost and environmental impact.

CEO Brian Ferguson said as part of the project’s “natural evolution,” steam chambers at Foster Creek’s wells are coalescing, leading to reduced efficiency.

In response, Cenovus is making some changes to how it will start up planned expansions at the site. For instance, it will let steam circulate in the reservoir for a longer period before starting up production.

Its SOR for 2014 is expected to be between 2.6 and three—a temporary increase resulting from the new start-up practices.

“Cenovus anticipates this will result in long-term production benefits that outweigh the added costs of a temporarily higher SOR,” the company said in a release.

Combined production from its Foster Creek and Christina Lake oil sands projects rose 14 per cent to average almost 103,000 barrels per day in 2013.

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