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Devon relying on steam to produce oil in Canada

Oklahoma City's Devon Energy Corp. has ventured far from home in search of oil, making successful inroads in the oil sands of northern Alberta, Canada.
BY JAY F. MARKS Published: December 5, 2010

EDITOR'S NOTE: Travel to Devon Energy Corp.'s Jackfish project was provided by the company.

In the marshy wilds of northern Alberta, Devon Energy Corp. operates a water treatment plant capable of producing about 35,000 barrels of oil a day.

The oil, of course, is what Devon wants.

The company is planning to triple its operations in the oil sands by 2015, officials said, with additional capacity for the future thanks to a joint venture with industry giant BP.

Devon's deal with BP triples its land base in the oil sands to about 95,000 acres.

That is a good position to be in, given the fertile resource base that is Canada.

Canada is the largest supplier of oil imports to the United States, no surprise given the country's status as the world's third-largest natural gas producer and sixth-largest oil producer.

Canada's production has doubled since 1980, with ample resources for the future.

The country ranks behind only Saudi Arabia in its reserve base. Its production is expected to grow to 3 billion barrels a day by 2025.

About 97 percent of Canada's oil reserves are contained in the oil sands, found in three deposits in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The oil there, known as bitumen, is as thick as peanut butter. Most of it is more than 200 feet underground, too deep to mined, so producers have developed another method to harvest it.

“It doesn't move, so you've got to add some heat to it,” said Cal Watson, general manager of Devon's thermal operations and production. “That's where the steam comes in.”

Most oil sands operators use a process called steam-assisted gravity drainage, which was developed by a University of Calgary professor and a consortium of government and independent partners.

It involves pumping steam into the ground to make the bitumen more fluid.

Watson said it takes about 2.5 months to create a steam chamber underground at about 450 degrees, then an additional two weeks to reach full production.

Devon's Jackfish project near the town of Conklin in northern Alberta is licensed to extract 35,000 barrels of oil a day. Future projects with that name will have the same capacity.

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