Imperial in Cold Lake
Imperial in Cold Lake
Learn more about Imperial's operations, emergency procedures, safety and environmental performance and community involvement at our Cold Lake operations.

Cold Lake

Cold Lake

Cold Lake overview
Cold Lake is North America’s largest in-situ operation, with production averaging about 150,000 barrels of bitumen per day in recent years. The operation is the longest-running in-situ operation in Canada and the first to implement Imperial’s patented cyclic steam-stimulation recovery technology. Cold Lake produced its billionth barrel of bitumen in 2009, the only in-situ operation in Canada to achieve this milestone. 

Technology developments have increased recovery rates from about 20 percent in the mid-1990s to more than 50 percent today. Over the same period, new technologies in water treatment and re-use have enabled Cold Lake to reduce fresh water requirements by more than 60 percent for every barrel of bitumen produced, and today more than 95 percent of Cold Lake’s water is recycled.

Facilities and operations
Our leases at Cold Lake cover about 780 square kilometers of oil sands and we operate four plants in the area – Leming, Maskwa, Mahihkan and Mahkeses.

Our plant names have First Nations’ origins:

  • Maskwa is Cree for "bear”
  • Mahihkan is Cree for “wolf”
  • Mahkeses is Cree for “fox”
  • Nabiye, our new expansion project, is Dene for “otter”

Midzaghe opportunity
Imperial is evaluating potential future development of the Grand Rapids resource at Cold Lake, involving SA-SAGD (solvent-assisted, steam-assisted gravity drainage) recovery of bitumen. Grand Rapids is the formation above the Clearwater zone, the source of Imperial’s current cyclic steam-stimulation bitumen production. Resource delineation, environmental assessment and other work is underway to advance the Midzaghe (mood-sa-gay, Dene for owl) development, with potential project sanction and construction start late in this decade and operations start-up as early as 2022.

The company has submitted a Project Summary Table and Proposed Terms of Reference as required by the Alberta Energy Regulator, and has started consultation about this potential development with local stakeholders, including First Nations in the Cold Lake region. Midzaghe would include a 45,000-barrel-per-day steam-generation and bitumen-processing plant, with well-pads and other infrastructure required to support operation. The project life would be estimated at over 30 years. No investment decisions have been made at this time.

Nabiye project
In 2004, Imperial received regulatory approval to expand Cold Lake operations in a new area called Nabiye. The expansion includes new producing well pads and a new bitumen-processing plant, and will add more than 40,000 barrels a day of production.

In 2010, Imperial received approval to amend its development plan to include technology improvements such as a field development plan to reduce surface footprint, a cogeneration facility to enhance energy efficiency and sulphur-removal facilities to reduce sulphur-dioxide emissions.

Bitumen production began as planned in early 2015, and is expected to reach 40,000 barrels per day by the end of 2015.  The Nabiye cogeneration facility is enhancing environmental performance and will supply an average of 150 megawatts of power to the Alberta electrical grid.

Growing responsibly at Cold Lake
Our Cold Lake operation produced its one billionth barrel in 2009, the only in-situ operation in Canada to have achieved this milestone. This success represents 40 years of perseverance, a commitment to research and development of new technologies, and continuous improvement across every facet of the operation.

When we purchased the Cold Lake leases decades ago, the technology to produce the resource economically did not exist.

We challenged our research teams to devise new recovery technologies that would reduce costs while minimizing environmental impacts, and they responded by developing and patenting cyclic steam stimulation in 1966 and steam-assisted gravity drainage in 1982, two processes that have underpinned the development of in-situ oil sands in Canada.

To reduce costs and optimize development, our engineers designed a long-term, phased approach to growth. This was a departure from the megaproject convention of the time, but paced development provided the platform for responsible growth that continues today. It enabled us to improve every step of the way – continuously investing in research and steadily reducing the environmental footprint of our operations.

To reduce the surface footprint of the thousands of wells required for an expanding commercial operation, we developed the megapad approach. It employs multiple wells drilled from a single surface location, enabling a smaller footprint, more efficient resource recovery, reduced development costs and improved economics. Application of improvements to drilling and recovery technology for our next expansion will reduce the number of well pads required to access the resource, and as a result will reduce the associated surface disturbance by more than 40 percent.

From the outset, Imperial also recognized the need to reduce fresh water requirements. We pioneered water recycling techniques at Cold Lake, and through continuous improvements fresh water requirements have dropped to about half a barrel for each barrel of bitumen produced. This is 88 percent less fresh water per unit of production than in the mid-1970s. Today, the operation recycles about 95 percent of the produced water that is recovered with the oil. Commercial trials and research are ongoing to develop new solvent-based processing techniques to further reduce fresh water use.