Canadian Natural Resources Limited plans to more than quadruple the percentage of the developed area of its acquired Pelican Lake lands under polymer flooding by year-end 2018.

CNRL, which has long operated Canada’s biggest polymer flood at Pelican Lake in northern Alberta, recently acquired nearby heavy oil properties, some of which were also polymer flooded, from Cenovus Energy Inc. for $975 million in cash (DOB, Sept. 5, 2017).

CNRL's polymer flood—also called Brintnell—has been described by some as more successful than Cenovus’s project, even though both are in similar reservoirs and began injecting in 2006 (DOB, Jan. 2, 2015).

“Our top priority in 2018 is capturing these synergies (between the acquired Pelican Lake lands and CNRL's previous Pelican property) — optimizing production, conducting wellbore cleanouts and converting more of the field to polymer flooding,” said Darren Fichter, CNRL’s executive vice-president of Canadian conventional operations.

About 65 per cent of the developed portion of the acquired Cenovus lands were polymer flooded in the past, but today only 15 per cent is being polymer flooded, Fichter told CNRL’s institutional investor conference in Toronto on Tuesday.

“The polymer flood was stopped as a short-term cost-saving measure when oil prices dropped,” he told analysts. “We plan to have 63 per cent of the acquired lands converted to polymer flooding by the end of 2018.”

Canadian Natural, which says it is Canada’s biggest primary heavy oil producer with third quarter output of 99,000 bbl/d, isn’t just focused on megaprojects.

“An important part of Canadian Natural's culture is that small things matter, and many small things add up to big things,” Fichter told analysts.

He cited wellbore cleanouts as an example of relatively small improvements that enhance value.

Canadian Natural has long been focused wellbore cleanouts and plans to apply its experience to the acquired Pelican Lake property.

“Each wellbore cleanout adds an average of 17 barrels of oil per day, and we plan on doing 164 wellbore cleanouts in 2018, adding approximately 2,800 barrels a day of oil,” Fichter said of CNRL’s Pelican plans.

“Of the 164 wellbore cleanouts, 100 will be done on the acquired lands. This is an example of how we are capturing value at low cost.”

Canadian Natural also plans to drill 22 net infill horizontal wells at Pelican Lake in 2018, five more than this year.

Fichter said infill horizontal wells typically have low operating costs and result in high netbacks and a relatively quick payout for long-life-low decline assets.

He described Pelican Lake as an asset where technology development is significantly boosting value.

CNRL’s current Pelican Lake production is about 67,000 bbl/d, including the former Cenovus lands, which were producing about 19,600 boe/d when the acquisition was announced in early September.

Before the acquisition CNRL booked 384 million bbls of proved plus probable reserves at Pelican Lake. Third quarter operating costs were $6 per bbl.

Canadian Natural has recovered about 10 per cent of the oil-in-place in the developed portion of the pool, and its independent reserves evaluator estimates ultimate recovery at about 25 per cent.

Without polymer flooding, the recovery factor on primary production is about six per cent for Pelican Lake heavy oil.

Mixing polymer powder, which serves as a thickening agent, with water before it’s injected into heavy oil wells decreases the viscosity contrast between the oil and the injected fluid, and increases sweep efficiency.