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In pursuing heavy oil and bitumen resources, the energy industry historically focused on sand deposits. These were first encountered by aboriginals thousands of years ago as riverbank outcrops with naturally seeping bitumen – which they and early European explorers used to seal their canoes. Beginning in the 1960s the oil sands were developed through a combination of surface mining and underground or in situ development. In situ development initially utilized vertical wells in a cyclic steam stimulation (CSS) process and, more recently, has used horizontal wells in the SAGD process.
Geologically, however, a whole other world is available: the carbonates. Carbonates are sedimentary rock such as limestone formed from decayed organisms like coral and plankton. If exposed to high salinity water over millions of years and under the right conditions, limestone transforms into dolomite. Dolomite reservoirs typically offer better porosity and permeability systems than limestone reservoirs as they are more susceptible to karsting, a process whereby slightly acidic rainwater dissolves or leaches the rock. Many super-giant conventional reservoirs such as Ghawar, Saudi Arabia and Kirkuk, Iraq are carbonates.
In fact, approximately 59% of Alberta’s conventional crude oil is hosted within carbonate rocks. Since the first oil discovery at the Leduc No. 1 in 1947, Alberta has discovered and successfully produced over 9.8 billion barrels of crude oil from carbonate rock.
Alberta’s combined bitumen resource base includes an estimated 471 billion barrels in the Grosmont and Winterburn carbonates. All of it remains undeveloped – and Laricina is the first to apply SAGD and C-SAGD to the Grosmont carbonates.