Using the data from over 8000 wells augmented by seismic and thermal response information, a comparison of McMurray Formation (Cretaceous) and Grosmont C member (Devonian) thermal recovery reservoirs of northeastern Alberta is provided along with a discussion of reservoir performance to date. Fluvial-estuarine McMurray Formation reservoirs perform best where bitumen-charged homogeneous lenticular sandstones at least 20 metres thick are found. These deposits are relatively rare as the formation is characterized by endemic heterogeneity mainly in the form of inclined heterolithic stratification (IHS). Most of the best McMurray steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) reservoirs appear to be currently on-line and produce approximately 113 000 m3/day of bitumen from fourteen projects.

Platform carbonate Grosmont C successions are blanket deposits 32–35 metres thick, with bitumen columns typically 15–24 metres thick, and are characterized by consistent reservoir properties facilitated by pervasive multi-scale fracturing. Although no reserves have yet to be assigned to Alberta’s bitumen-bearing carbonates by the province, recent pilot results derived from cyclic steam stimulation (CSS) operations suggest that Grosmont C reservoir performance could ultimately prove to be competitive with superior McMurray SAGD reservoirs.

Under current technological and economic conditions, McMurray SAGD reservoirs appear incapable of providing the 15.9 billion m3 of in-situ bitumen reserves (59% of Canada’s total oil reserves) ascribed to this formation by the province of Alberta as only circa 6 billion m3 of oil-in place appears to reside within optimal reservoirs (i.e. those reservoirs at least 20 metres thick with average porosity and oil saturation values of 33% and 80%, respectively). Barring future technological breakthroughs and, or, economic improvements, future commercial development of both the Grosmont C and other carbonate reservoirs might be needed to make up for some of the potential reserve shortfall associated with McMurray Formation SAGD reservoirs.

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