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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

AAPG Special Volumes



Copyright copy2013 by The American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

Geothermal Energy as a Source of Heat for Oil Sands Processing in Northern Alberta, Canada

Jacek Majorowicz,1 Martyn Unsworth,2 Tom Chacko,3 Allan Gray,4 Larry Heaman,5 David K. Potter,6 Douglas R. Schmitt,7 Tayfun Babadagli8

1University of Alberta, 11322-89 Ave. Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G7, Canada (e-mail: [email protected])
2University of Alberta, 11322-89 Ave. Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G7, Canada (e-mail: [email protected])
3University of Alberta, 11322-89 Ave. Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G7, Canada (e-mail: [email protected])
4University of Alberta, 11322-89 Ave. Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G7, Canada (e-mail: [email protected])
5University of Alberta, 11322-89 Ave. Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G7, Canada (e-mail: [email protected])
6University of Alberta, 11322-89 Ave. Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G7, Canada (e-mail: [email protected])
7University of Alberta, 11322-89 Ave. Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G7, Canada (e-mail: [email protected])
8University of Alberta, 11322-89 Ave. Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G7, Canada (e-mail: [email protected])


The Previous HitHelmholtzNext Hit Alberta Initiative has funded this research and is supported by funding from the Alberta government and the Previous HitHelmholtzNext Hit Foundation. We thank colleagues in the Department of Geothermics, Institute of Geophysics Czech Academy of Science Thermal Properties Labs (Jan Safanda and Peter Dedecek), and Geological Survey of Canada (Matt Grobe and Gordon Jean) for helping with measurements of thermal conductivity and diffusivity on our core samples. We thank our GeoForschungsZentrum colleagues (Jochem Kueck, Matxalen Rey Abasolo) for their help with gamma spectral log data. We thank colleagues in the GeoForschungsZentrum thermal properties lab (Andrea and Hans Forster) for their discussion on thermal properties and initial thermal conductivity tests on small core plugs. We thank Charles Warren Hunt of Calgary for allowing us to log the Hunt well and for helping us with core access and information on the previous results attained during well drilling completed in 2003. The idea of using geothermal heat for oil sands processing was previously proposed by Michal Moore (University of Calgary) and investigated by an industrial consortium Geopowering the Oilsands until 2008 (Suncor, Shell, Nexen). We thank Michal Moore, Alison Thompson, Dan Yang, and Peter McConnachie and other members of the GeoPos consortium for discussions about their previous research in this area. We also thank Nate Walsh (University of Alberta) for his help with sample processing for the ICP-MS rock analyses and Judith Chang is thanked for the seismic-section processing.


Geothermal energy has the potential to reduce both the production costs and greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil sands production in the Western Canada sedimentary basin (WCSB) in Northern Alberta. This is currently being investigated through the Previous HitHelmholtzNext Hit-Alberta Initiative, which is a research collaboration between the Previous HitHelmholtzTop Association of German Research Centres and the University of Alberta. The primary area of interest is in the Athabasca oil sands where the WCSB is relatively thin and the Phanerozoic sedimentary succession is thinning toward the northeast and subcropping onto the Canadian shield. Beneath the Athabasca oil sands, the Precambrian basement is at a depth of 0.5 km (0.31 mi) and can be studied by the analysis of the geophysical logs and core and rock chip samples from a deep 2.4 km (1.49 mi) well drilled into the granitic basement rocks. A second study area is located around Peace River, where the WCSB is about 2 km (1.24 mi) thick, and data from the Phanerozoic section are being analyzed. The research is focused on an evaluation of potential heat sources for oil-sands processing in areas with existing leases. Revised maps of the temperature at the top of the Precambrian basement confirms that temperatures greater than 60degC could be found within the sedimentary strata in the Peace River oil sands area. This temperature will be found in the crystalline Precambrian basement beneath the Athabasca oil sands. Extraction of heat will require the development of engineered geothermal systems with artificial porosity created and fluids circulated at depth. The economics of this process appear favorable, and additional research will define the feasibility of this type of heat production in more detail.

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