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Online Water Analysis in Thermally Enhanced Heavy Oil Recovery

Lead Proponent:  Agar Canada Corporation
Location:  Alberta
ecoEII Contribution: $ 900,000
Project Total:  $ 1,809,000

Project Background

Water quality is a key factor affecting the efficiency of oil extraction in thermally enhanced heavy oil recovery systems.  The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), specifically Directive 81, regulates the amount of fresh, typically brackish water that producers are allowed to dispose of, thereby requiring producers to re-use over 85% of the water injected and returned with the oil being produced.  Higher quality water ensures higher quality steam, which leads to increased oil production.  When water quality is poor, deposits form on the tubes, hot spots are generated and the tubes rupture leading to boiler damage and production downtime.  Producers must therefore perform continuous water quality measurements. 

Although there are many parameters to be measured in boiler feed-water, measurement systems only exist for some of these parameters and are based on slow and cumbersome sampling and lab techniques.  Producers need timely online water analysis tools in order to identify upsets as soon as possible rather than waiting for sampling and lab results.  Recognizing the opportunity, Agar Canada Corporation, together with its partners Luxmux Technology Corporation, and Devon Canada Corporation jointly proposed the project “Online Water Analysis in Thermally Enhanced Heavy Oil Recovery” for ecoEII funding.  The project was awarded $900K to demonstrate an online analyser and real-time identification, measurement and analysis of water for WLS-WAC (warm lime softener - weak acid cation) Ion Exchange water treatment systems used in in-situ heavy oil production.  Specifically, oil and silica are measured so that producers may identify upset conditions in real time and take preventive action before maximum allowed tolerances are exceeded.


Agar and its project partners combined efforts to develop an online boiler feed water quality analyzer. Various configurations using infrared, microwave and ultrasonic sensors to measure parts-per-million (ppm) oil in water were tested.  Agar already had a microwave sensor that measured 0-100% oil in water.  Testing of various configurations was conducted, and it was concluded that measuring droplets of oil flowing in the water faced many challenges.   

Luxmux developed a spool piece which connects to Luxmux’s BeST-SLED spectrometer via fiber optics.  The spool has two optical probes with sapphire windows.  Two collimators are attached to the probes so the light beam travels straight through the fiber optic cable into the optical power meter.  When Agar’s microwave sensor was combined with Luxmux’s BeST-SLED® infrared system, it was possible to measure the scattering effects of oil droplets at various wavelengths, in order to determine the droplet size and amount of oil.

Devon Canada, a project partner, supplied Agar with water and oil samples from their first commercial steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) plant – Jackfish.  The performance of the pilot scale analyser was tested using the water and oil samples in a test loop at Agar’s facility. 

Benefits to Canada

Successful demonstration and adoption of online analysers at heavy oil producer sites across Canada will improve the efficiency of oil extraction and benefit the industry as a whole.

Next Steps

Demonstration of the water quality analyser at one of Devon Canada’s operational oil sands sites in order to prove the reliability and accuracy of the water quality analyser under real operating conditions.

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