Alaska’s new production manager for ExxonMobil, Darlene Gates, comes from Imperial Oil’s mega-oil project in northeastern Alberta where she bore the title “Cold Lake & conventional asset manager.”
Exxon holds a 69.6 percent interest in Imperial.
In Alaska she is replacing Cory Quarles.
The Cold Lake operation is the longest-running in Alberta and one of the largest thermal in-situ heavy oil operations in the world.
Developments in technology have increased bitumen recovery rates from about 20 percent in the mid-1990s to more than 50 percent today. Over the same period, new technologies in water treatment and re-use have enabled Cold Lake to significantly reduce fresh water requirements so today more than 95 percent of its water is recycled.
Cold Lake operations produce about 160,000 barrels of bitumen a day and employ about 400 people plus 1,000 contractors, most of whom are locals.
Imperial’s proposed Cold Lake expansion, a solvent-assisted, steam-assisted, gravity drainage project is expected to yield 55,000 bpd.
Technology key at Point ThomsonPoint Thomson on the eastern North Slope is the only unit operated by Exxon in Alaska and is due for a major expansion, the success of which relies heavily on technology.
Just prior to Point Thomson’s startup in mid-2016, Quarles said three factors underpin achievements at Point Thomson: technology, people and the company culture.
He particularly homed in on the field’s exceptional 10,000 pounds per square inch reservoir pressure, a pressure that he said corresponded to the effect of an elephant standing on the end of someone’s thumb.
That reservoir pressure is the highest in Exxon’s global portfolio, and probably the highest of any producing field in the world. And, Quarles added, to re-inject gas back into the reservoir it was necessary to compress the gas to more than 10,000 pounds per square inch.
Cold Lake cyclic steam stimulationCold Lake bitumen is more than a quarter mile underground. Through a process called cyclic steam stimulation bitumen is extracted by injecting steam into the oil sands to thin the heavy bitumen, enabling it to flow to the surface through wellbores. This technology did not exist when Imperial purchased the Cold Lake leases more than five decades ago.
The company challenged its research teams to devise new recovery technologies that would reduce costs and environmental impacts.
Per Imperial, “They rose to the challenge, developing and patenting cyclic steam stimulation in 1966 and steam-assisted gravity drainage in 1982, two innovative processes that have underpinned the development of the in-situ oil sands industry in Canada.”
Technology also played a significant role in environmental protection at Point Thomson. Having, for example, consulted with the nearby community of Kaktovik, Exxon implemented a system for satellite image surveillance of caribou, rather than using low flying aircraft. The local people were concerned about the potential disturbance caused by aerial surveys, Quarles said.
“To our knowledge this is the first time that satellite imaging has been used to monitor caribou on the North Slope.”
Point Thomson’s pastPoint Thomson’s original leases were issued around 1965. Exxon discovered oil in the area in 1975 and natural gas in 1977.
By 1983 Exxon and other companies had drilled 17 wells at the unit.
A court-ordered settlement between the state of Alaska and Exxon in early 2012 created a timetable for Exxon to bring Point Thomson into production in 2016 and for later expanding development.
Point Thomson’s futureThe state and Exxon reached agreement on the company’s expansion plan of development for the Point Thomson unit on Dec. 22.
Division of Oil and Gas Director Chantal Walsh said the company’s expansion plan involved building facilities, including a gas pipeline, to allow shipment of Point Thomson natural gas to Prudhoe Bay for injection there.
The expansion would increase production to more than 50,000 barrels per day of condensate (currently about 10,000 bpd) and 920 million cubic feet per day of natural gas (currently 200 million).
Two new production wells would be drilled from the central pad and two wells, PTU 15 and PTU 16, converted from injectors to producers. A disposal well would also be drilled.
Walsh noted five expansion project activities proposed for 2017-19: negotiating a commercial agreement to inject gas into the Prudhoe Bay unit; discussing technical alignment and scope with the Prudhoe working interest owners; front-end engineering and design planning and execution; development of applications for federal and state permits; and preparing unspecified “deliverables.”
“It’s clear that ExxonMobil is committed to commercializing North Slope gas, particularly from Point Thomson. This helps align the company’s work in Alaska with the State of Alaska and AGDC,” Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack said following Walsh’s approval.
Exxon had this to say: “The preferred future development for the Point Thomson resource is through a major gas sales project, and ExxonMobil remains committed to making our natural gas available to the state’s LNG project through bilateral negotiations of mutually agreed terms. However, as stated in the Expansion Planning POD and consistent with the Settlement Agreement, ExxonMobil is evaluating gas injection into Prudhoe Bay as an alternative pending working interest owner approval.”
- KAY CASHMAN
SIDEBAR HEAD & TEXT:
Cold Lake gets kudos from educators
Educators praise Cold Lake
USE GATES GETTING AWARD FROM MAN PHOTO HERE
Educational requirements at Cold Lake vary for each position: a grade 12 or general equivalency diploma at a minimum; advanced professional degrees and experience at the other end of the scale.
Operator Imperial Oil supports recruitment and development programs that enable people to meet its employment requirements and business needs, including in-house training, mentoring and job rotation for skill development, along with networking programs “to help employees maximize their potential and enhance their job satisfaction.”
Imperial also touts its indigenous people workforce recruitment and development, with its aboriginal employment at 40, per its website.
Formed in 1991 to support, mentor and empower women entering non-traditional careers - an effort Gates was involved with - the Women in Wage Network has more than 40 members in Cold Lake operations.
Furthermore, the company looked to future recruitment, offering scholarships, internships and registered apprentice programs.
Providing opportunities for students that helped them make connections between what they were learning in the classroom and careers they may want to pursue earned Imperial the Alberta School Boards Association 2016 Friends of Education Award.
Cold Lake operations were nominated to the school boards group by Lakeland Catholic Schools Board of Trustees.
Amanda Wildman, communications officer for the district, touted Cold lake’s initiatives in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an interview with PN on March 28.
Gates accepted the award on behalf of Imperial, a reflection on her involvement in district educational programs.
- KAY CASHMAN