Creating value - Operational efficiencies

Corporate Responsibility

Creating value - Operational efficiencies

At Canadian Natural, improving oil and natural gas production goes hand in hand with reducing our environmental footprint. Applied technologies and day-to-day operational efficiencies enable Canadian Natural to deliver continuous improvement, adding value in a cost-effective way. Examples of these projects include enhancing steam generation, water treatment and separation processes, transferring technology across the company.

Enhancing water quality supports increased production

Water quality is a central focus in our thermal in situ oil sands operations to maintain high recycle rates. Produced water is treated for re-use as boiler feed for steam generation.

When Canadian Natural moved from cyclic steam stimulation (CSS) to a steamflood (SF) strategy across some areas of our Primrose operations, we needed to expand water treatment capabilities at our Wolf Lake water processing plant. SF requires a constant steaming strategy, similar to steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), which results in more water produced from the reservoir than with CSS. Through teamwork and innovation, we have increased water treatment capacity for further resource recovery using higher water-steam ratio thermal recovery methods.

To learn more about thermal production methods, check out these videos on explaining the CSS and the SAGD processes.

A module is put in place as part of the construction to increase the produced water capacity at PAW thermal in situ oil sands operations.

Improving oil recovery reduces environmental footprint

Enhancing oil and water separation processes across our operations not only increases recovery, but also improves our waste management practices.

Advancing polymer performance at Pelican Lake

Research and applied technology are the foundation of our Pelican Lake operations, where we have pioneered polymer flooding as an Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) technique. Since our first polymer flooding pilot project in 2005, we have continued to enhance our understanding of the key elements to an efficient and successful flood, from optimizing water and polymer quality to ensuring a balanced flood.

At Pelican Lake, heavy oil is brought to the surface as an emulsion of oil, water, sand, gas and other solubles. These components are stored in large vessels and they settle out in layers based on their densities. We have developed an automated process that measures densities in a more consistent and accurate way. Better detection of separation levels leads to cleaner water (which reduces water treatment for recycling), less waste and more effective cost management.

Pelican Lake polymer flood operations

More efficient separation process in heavy oil operations

At our heavy oil operations, we also separate the produced emulsion into clean oil and water streams prior to safe disposal and containment into caverns (deep formations beneath the surface). Research into oil and water separation resulted in improvements to oil recovery from the water, reducing sand handling and improving disposal.

Developing casing integrity management process

The casing is a steel pipe placed in the wellbore and then cemented in place to prevent the release of fluids. We conduct casing integrity checks regularly to prevent breaks and leaks. Standard integrity checks typically apply pressure on the casing, require the removal of the tubing and reduce well life. At Canadian Natural, we researched an alternative process to perform casing integrity checks at our Primrose cyclic steam stimulation (CSS) operations. After years of field trials, we determined that electromagnetic logs can detect metal thickness, and identify casing connection breaks in a reliable and consistent way. Electromagnetic logs are now the standard casing integrity check for Primrose CSS wells and part of our well integrity management protocol.

Left: Rig over a well at Primrose thermal in situ operations. Right: Electromagnetic thickness detector log.