Father of SAGD honoured at Imperial's Calgary research lab
Brilliant, tenacious and highly principled are the words Dr. Mori Kwan used to describe Dr. Roger Butler, the inventor of Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), at a lab dedication event on January 19, 2012. Kwan, who was hired by Butler in 1979, still works at the Calgary research centre.
The Physical Model Experiment (PME) lab at the research centre was dedicated to the memory of Butler, who passed away in 2005. The lab conducts experiments testing new technologies to improve environmental performance, and optimize the underground bitumen recovery processes.
Born in England on October 14, 1927, Butler obtained his PhD in Chemical Engineering by the time he was 24. He moved to Canada in 1951 and became an assistant professor in Chemical Engineering at Queen's University, a position he held until moving to Sarnia to work for Imperial in 1955.
It was at Imperial that Butler made discoveries that would change the oil and gas industry forever.
In the 1960s, Imperial discovered a large oil deposit at Cold Lake but had no economic way to produce the oil.
While debating the problem with a friend over a beer, Butler came up with his greatest invention. He argued that by injecting steam underground through one well to heat the oil at Cold Lake and create a steam chamber, the oil would become lighter. The heated oil would then drain to the bottom of the chamber, where another well would pump the oil to the surface.
Butler wrote the patent for SAGD in 1969, and further pursued the idea in 1975 when Imperial moved him from Sarnia to Calgary. In 1978, Imperial and Butler piloted the world's first horizontal oil well paired with a vertical steam-injection well at Cold Lake. Butler went on to become heavy oil research manager and received over 40 patents before his retirement in 1982.
Although he had retired, Butler was not done working. He became Technical Program Director at the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA) in 1982 and occupied the Endowed Chair of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Calgary from 1983 to 1995. In 1985, he initiated testing at Underground Test Facility's SAGD steam pilot and was inducted into the Petroleum Hall of Fame post-mortem in 2006.
Today, more than 100 billion barrels of oil in the Athabasca oil sands are accessible because of SAGD. The lab dedication represents Imperial's respect for a man whose brilliant work will remain in the history books of the oil and gas industry, Canada and fortunately for us, Imperial Oil.