Published: March 2, 2015
ALBERTA OIL STAFF, MARCH 2, 2015
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In retrospect, it almost sounded too good to be true. Toe-to-heel air injection, or THAI, was a process that combined controlled combustion with vertical and horizontal wells and promised to produce higher volumes of partially upgraded oil at a fraction of the cost of existing methods. And because it used negligible amounts of water, it was better for the environment as well. “It’s an ideal technical solution,” former Petrobank COO Chris Bloomer said. It was so ideal, in fact, that it enjoyed a place of prominence in a video on innovation that was produced in the mid-2000s, and which still plays today at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray.
Unfortunately, it didn’t unfold quite the way its proponents had hoped. Rather than revolutionizing the way heavy oil is extracted in Alberta, the technology has consistently failed to even meet the results set by more traditional methods of SAGD and nearly bankrupted the company that invested so much time and money into it in the process. Despite a major corporate restructuring and a shift out of the Athabasca oil sands and into Saskatchewan, Petrobank could never translate THAI’s technological potential into meaningful production gains on its various properties and demonstration projects. Last March, after the results at its Kerrobert property continued to underwhelm, Petrobank agreed to merge with Touchstone Exploration in order to form a new company that would focus its efforts on Touchstone’s assets in Trinidad. The only mention of THAI in the press release heralding the deal was a footnote indicating that the company would be “continuing our commitment to eliminate the negative operating cash flows from the Kerrobert THAI project.”