Laying it all out at the Core Conference

Bobbing in the wake of the talks, the Core Conference turned out to be more exemplary of this year's theme, Integration. Best of all were SAGD case studies, where multi-disciplinary experiments are the only way to make sense of the sticky stuff.

Coring through steam

Travis Shackleton from Cenovus did a wonderful presentation showing the impact of bioturbation, facies boundaries, and sedimentary structures on steam chamber evolution in the McMurray Formation at the FCCL project. And because I had the chance to work on this project with ConocoPhillips a few years ago, but didn't, this work induced both jealousy and awe. Their experiment design is best framed as a series of questions:

  • What if we drilled, logged, and instrumented two wells only 10 m apart? (Awesome.)
  • What if we collected core in both of them? (Double awesome.)
  • What if the wells were in the middle of a mature steam chamber? (Triple awesome.)
  • What if we collected 3D seismic after injecting all this steam and compare with with a 3D from before? (Quadruple awesome.)

It is the first public display of SAGD-depleted oil sand, made available by an innovation of high-temperature core recovery. Travis pointed to a portion of core that had been rinsed by more than 5 years of steam circulating through it. It had a pale brown color and a residual oil saturation SO of 15% (bottom sample in the figure). Then he pointed to a segment of core above the top of the steam chamber. It too was depleted, by essentially the same amount. You'd never know just by looking. It was sticky and black and largely unscathed. My eyes were fooled, direct observation deceived.

A bitumen core full of fractures

Jen-Russel-Houston held up a half-tube of core of high-density fractures riddled throughout bitumen saturated rock. The behemoth oil sands that require thermal recovery assistance have an equally promising but lesser known carbonate cousin, still in its infancy. It is the bitumen saturated Grosmont Formation, located to the west of the more mature in-situ projects in sand. The reservoir is entirely dolomite, hosting its own unique structures affecting the spreading of steam and the reduction of bitumen's viscosity to a flowable level.

Jen and her team at OSUM hope their pilot will demonstrate that these fractures serve as transport channels for the steam, allowing it to creep around tight spots in the reservoir, which would otherwise be block the steam in its tracks. These are not the same troubling baffles and barriers caused by mud plugs or IHS, but permeability heterogeneities caused by the dolomitization process. A big question is the effective permeability at the length scales of production, which is phenomenologically different to measurements made from cut core. I overheard a spectator suggest to Jen that she try to freeze a sleeve of core, soak it with acid then rinse the dolomite out the bottom. After which only a frozen sculpture of the bitumen would remain. Crazy? Maybe. Intriguing? Indeed. 

Let's do more science with rocks!

Two impressive experiments, unabashedly and literally laid out for all to see, equipped with clever geologists, and enriched by supplementary technology. Both are thoughtful initiatives—real scientific experiments—that not only make the operating companies more profitable, but also profoundly improve our understanding of a precious resource for society. Two role models for how comprehensive experiments can serve more than just those who conduct them. Integration at its very best, centered on core.

What are the best examples of integrated geoscience that you've seen?