To optimize SAGD well-pair placement and improve thermal recovery operations, geochemical bitumen composition logs are used to identify barriers and baffles to fluid flow, which may compartmentalize McMurray Formation reservoirs in the Athabasca Oil Sands. SAGD steam chamber growth and cumulative steam oil ratios are sensitive to both vertical permeability and bitumen viscosity variations, which are commonly encountered in the oil sands reservoirs. In the McMurray Formation, tidally influenced meandering channel deposits are commonly vertically stacked, forming reservoir columns up to 80 m thick. In many instances, inclined heterolithic strata (IHS), consisting of interbedded sand and silt deposited on point bars, comprise barriers to vertical steam chamber growth at multiple horizons of a reservoir. Thus, the identification, characterization, and delineation of IHS intervals is a critical step for evaluating the reservoir development potential, and designing an optimal reservoir development strategy. While siltstone beds are routinely identified in cores and geophysical logs, thin siltstone beds that can act as a barrier to fluid flow are not discernible in seismic reflection data and have proven difficult to correlate between adjacent delineation wells.

In this study, geochemical bitumen analysis is used to determine the integrity and continuity of siltstone beds within IHS in order to assess their potential impact on SAGD steam chamber growth. First, high-resolution molecular composition profiles are obtained from gas chromatography – mass spectrometry analyses of bitumen extracted from cores. The continuity of biodegradation-susceptible aromatic hydrocarbon concentrations measured through vertical profiles of a reservoir were used to determine if siltstone-prone intervals observed in log and core data acted as barriers or baffles to fluid flow over geological time. Integration of the bitumen molecular composition data with geological cross-sections fosters predictions of the lateral extent of the identified barriers. Furthermore, inferences about reservoir charging and in-reservoir fluid mixing histories are also made. Geochemical log data indicate that thickness of a heterogeneous low permeability interval is not necessarily the critical attribute of a barrier to fluid flow. Integration of both sedimentological information and bitumen geochemical data is useful for the identification of barriers and baffles to fluid flow in oil sand reservoirs. The method can be applied prior to positioning of SAGD well-pairs and thus could represent an important step for development planning of heterogeneous reservoirs.

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