And Now for Something Completely Different: Condensation Induced Water Hammer and Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage in the Athabasca Oil Sands
NURETH-14 - 2011 September 25-30

Presented at:
2011 September 25-30
Toronto, Canada
Session Title:
B12-2 Minisymposium on Pressure Surges in Nuclear Power Plants

Mike Carlson (RPS Energy)


Most people will have been exposed to some aspect of the debate about the Athabasca Oil Sands in North-Eastern Alberta and the significant role that the oil sands are expected to play in supplying conventional fossil fuels. Part of the bitumen is recovered from mines and part is recovered from in situ projects utilizing the Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage Process (SAGD). SAGD utilizes a considerable amount of steam, that is injected into geological formations. Hot water, bitumen and some vapour are recovered from the production wells. With significant steam generation, transmission and injection, there is the very real possibility of condensation induced water hammers.


There have been a number of catastrophic failures to date. Two major failures will be highlighted:

  • MEG Energy had a steam distribution line fail at the Christina Lake project. Large parts of the pipe, weighing some 2500 kg, were thrown some 800 meters into the bush during the failure; and,
  • Total had a steam release (blowout) at their Joslyn property due to a loss of caprock containment. A number of causes have been postulated. While it is agreed that there was sufficient downhole pressure to hydraulically fracture the formation, questions have been raised about the contribution that condensation induced water hammer made.

The situations that have occurred will be outlined, along with some preliminary thermal hydraulic work. The intent of the paper is to provide interesting background information on the in situ oil sands industry. More importantly, to show some interesting and broader applications of thermalhydraulics developed in the nuclear industry. The expertise developed may have potential markets, with some adaptation, to the oil sands industry. Finally, there has been some discussion about using nuclear power for steam generation in the oil sands.

Individual Conference-Paper Copies (Electronic Where Available):

  • For CNS members, the first 5 copies per calendar year are free, and additional copies are $10 each.
  • For non-members, the price is $25 for the first Conference-paper copy in a request, and $10 each for additional copies of papers in the same conference and in the same request.
  • Contact the CNS office to order reprints.