Areas of Study

Research at the University of Alberta focuses on five distinct areas that are of key importance to RGL. To access papers from these area of study, visit our Papers and Articles listing.

1) FLOW DYNAMICS: EXPERIMENTAL INVESTIGATIONS AND
2) FLOW DYNAMICS: NUMERICAL MODELLING

This research focuses on the near-field fluid mechanics of steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) [experimental, flow visualization, and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations] for sand control equipment and flow control devices (FCDs). Several failure mechanisms, including corrosion, erosion, and scaling, affect flow in SAGD wells and need to be considered when designing a slotted liner and any flow control device. 

The aim of the project is to provide a detailed understanding of the near well fluid mechanics of both the injection and production wells. This information will be used to develop a stronger design procedure as well as mitigate failure mechanisms. Research will take to twofold approach: an experimental investigation using both model fluids/conditions and real field fluids/conditions will elucidate the flow phenomenon present and then provide data on the flow field on a number of different conditions. 

The investigations will provide an understanding of the flow effect on scaling, corrosion, and sand control performance. Numerical models using CFDs are developed using the validation data from the experiments to provide further insight into this flow field. These will then be used as part of an optimization process to provide explicit information on design directions for RGL sand control devices and flow control technology.

3) Corrosion

This research focuses on corrosion mechanisms and control of downhole equipment. Because extremely corrosive substances in the oil-recovery process create severe service conditions, damage significantly shortens the lifetime of equipment in SAGD systems. 

We aim to improve corrosion resistance of materials for slotted liners and other RGL products by investigating corrosion mechanisms and the effect of different slot cutting processes on corrosion and plugging behaviour. We can then develop a corrosion- and plugging-resistant coating that is technically simple to apply and that extends the service life of slotted liners. More specifically, new technical criteria for materials selection – a better slot manufacturing process and the development of an effective coating – will provide RGL with a set of practical design criteria for optimizing operational performance of a SAGD system and extend equipment service life.

4) Sand Control Performance

This research focuses on comprehensive laboratory and numerical investigations of SAGD completions (sand control testing). Although liners are designed to prevent the reservoir sand from flowing into the wellbore, they do allow the production of very fine materials (i.e., fine silts and clay) into the reservoir. 

Sand production in thermal wells, which are typically horizontal, will result in sand accumulation in the liner, requiring the wellbore to be frequently shut-in for wellbore clean up. The production of fines will result in higher wellbore productivity since, if they are not produced, they will plug the sand and screen liner. 

Intelligent design of liners allows the production of fines but keeps the sand in the reservoir. Previously developed liner design criteria have resulted in lower wellbore productivity. In this research, we propose the development of criteria for the design of three different types of liners and take a comprehensive approach to enhancing the liner design for heavy-oil reservoirs using physical and mathematical modelling.

5) SCALING AND FOULING

This research focuses on finding the efficiency of bitumen extraction in SAGD operations and improving sand control performance in sand and flow control devices. The potential fouling and scale formation on surfaces and plugging of slots are determined by the intermolecular and surface interactions of solid sands, clays, bitumen, water, minerals, and liner surfaces, as well as the local hydrodynamic flow conditions. 

The goal is to characterize the physicochemical surface properties of the equipment and elucidate associated interfacial interaction mechanisms in the oil-sands extraction processes that lead to fouling and device failure, while also providing comprehensive solutions for a better material and coating selection with improved performances in the in-situ extraction process of bitumen for the oil-sands industry.

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