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Steaming Uphill: Using J-Wells

for CSS at Peace River
Shell Canada Ltd.

This paper is to be presented at the Petroleum Society’s 6th Canadian International Petroleum Conference (56th Annual Technical
Meeting), Calgary, Alberta, Canada, June 7 – 9, 2005. Discussion of this paper is invited and may be presented at the meeting if
filed in writing with the technical program chairman prior to the conclusion of the meeting. This paper and any discussion filed will
be considered for publication in Petroleum Society journals. Publication rights are reserved. This is a pre-print and subject to

Abstract dead-oil viscosity at reservoir temperature is around 100,000

centipoise. The Peace River field was discovered by well Shell
Shell Canada has tested several well designs at its Peace Cadotte number 1 in 1951.
River in-situ operation, including vertical wells, horizontal Pilot-scale production from the Peace River field began in
wells, SAGD horizontal well pairs and multi-lateral wells. 1979 with the Peace River In-Situ Project (PRISP), followed by
These well designs have been used with recovery processes such the Peace River Expansion Project (PREP) in 1985. PRISP and
as PCSD (pressure cycle steam drive), steam drive, SAGD and PREP applied the Shell-patented Pressure Cycle Steam Drive
CSS (cyclic steam stimulation). CSS has given the most (PCSD) recovery method, which makes use of a thin basal
economic oil-steam ratios of these recovery processes. water zone to obtain adequate steam injectivity in vertical wells.
A recent improvement in CSS well design has been to drill PRISP was quite successful, with a 40% recovery and a
laterals from the base to the top of the reservoir at angles above cumulative oil-steam ratio (OSR) of around 0.3. However,
90 degrees. This “J-well” design acts as a vertical separator PREP performance was affected by inter-cluster interference,
that helps distribute steam to the end of the wellbore, prevents resulting in a sub-economic OSR of less than 0.2.
steam condensate from inhibiting injection, heats the low In 1992 Shell was an early adopter of Steam Assisted
permeability Estuarine sands at the top of the reservoir and Gravity Drainage (SAGD) technology with the drilling of two
should retain gas and steam better in the reservoir during the 1000 m long well-pairs. This was followed by ten more SAGD
production cycle. The initial performance of the first J-wells at well-pairs in 1996 and 1997. However, SAGD also proved to be
Peace River has been encouraging with higher oil-steam ratios ineffective at Peace River with a cumulative OSR of less than
than regular CSS wells and more effective heat distribution 0.2. The poor performance of SAGD at Peace River is attributed
observed on time-lapse seismic. to limited vertical development of the SAGD steam chamber,
caused by the permeability contrast between the higher
permeability Fluvial zone at the base of the reservoir and the
Introduction lower permeability Estuarine zone at the top.
In 1996 Shell began testing Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS)
The Peace River heavy oilfield is located in northern with multi-lateral horizontal wells. CSS is a more robust
Alberta, Canada. Shell’s leases in the area contain around recovery process than SAGD and the high injection pressures,
1.1 billion m3 (7 billion barrels) of 7.5 degree API oil in a together with extended laterals drilled in the reservoir, enabled
Bluesky/Gething Lower Cretaceous sandstone reservoir. The good steam injection rates without the need for injecting in the

basal water zone. The performance of the CSS wells has been • Would all of the lateral length be effective or would
good, with typical early cycle OSRs of more than 0.4, which is steam injection largely occur at the heel?
sufficient to provide the basis for expanded commercial • Could a different well trajectory improve OSR and
development of the field. recovery of oil from the Estuarine sands?

Consideration of these issues led to a test of J-well

Evolution of Peace River CSS Well trajectories for some Peace River CSS wells. With a J-well
trajectory, instead of drilling flat laterals (ie a deviation angle of
Designs 90° from vertical), the lateral starts close to the base of the
Since 1996 there has been a steady evolution of CSS well reservoir and is drilled upwards at deviation angles of
designs at Peace River. The early CSS wells drilled in 1996-98 approximately 93°. When seen from the side this trajectory
were “soak radials”, which had four laterals drilled at 90° resembles the letter J, hence its name.
deviation from a main wellbore in an X shape. The total length
of wellbore in the reservoir with this design was typically
500m. Theoretical J-Well Benefits
In 2001 a pad of longer “haybob” CSS wells were drilled. The following potential benefits were identified for drilling
The haybob wells have up to five laterals sidetracked from a J-wells at Peace River.
deviated well, with a total wellbore length in the reservoir of
1000 m. These wells have a very complex shape, designed to Prevent Liquid Accumulating at the Toe
maximize the length of lateral close to the main wellbore. They During Injection
are named haybobs because of their resemblance to the
In a flat or deviated lateral (ie one with a deviation from
agricultural implement of the same name. The performance of
vertical of 90° or less) liquid may accumulate at the end of the
the first pad of haybob wells has been good, but these wells are
lateral as steam condenses along the length of the wellbore.
expensive to drill and the pattern is difficult to reproduce over
Liquid injectivity in the cooler toe of the well is significantly
large areas without interference between pads.
poorer than steam (vapor phase) injectivity in the hotter heel.
This creates a self-reinforcing process where more of the
In 2001-2002 three pads of multi-lateral “tuning-fork” wells
injected steam’s latent heat is released close to the heel than at
were drilled. The tuning-fork wells have two laterals drilled in
the toe, and steam conformance along the flat lateral is poor.
opposite directions from two pre-milled casing windows in a
main wellbore. Another lateral is then sidetracked from one of
With a J-well the inclined wellbore prevents liquid
the laterals, giving three laterals in the reservoir. The design,
accumulating at the toe. As water condenses in the wellbore, the
viewed from above, resembles a tuning-fork with two laterals
liquid will either be injected into the reservoir or drain back
drilled parallel in one direction and one lateral drilled at an
towards the heel. This should result in better heat distribution at
azimuth of 180°. Twenty-five tuning-fork wells were drilled
the end of the lateral without incurring the flow restriction,
from three pads, each with 1500-1700 m of total lateral length
complexity or cost of alternative approaches to this problem
drilled in the reservoir. The tuning-fork wells were cheaper to
such as limited entry perforations.
drill than the haybobs with comparable production performance.
Higher Steam Chamber Growth
Well Trajectories At Peace River it has been difficult to get injected steam to
move into the overlying tighter Estuarine layer. Core samples
While there was a significant evolution in the length and indicate that oil viscosity may be lower in the Estuarine layer
shape of the multi-lateral CSS wells from 1996 to 2002, the but the order of magnitude permeability contrast means the path
vertical position of the laterals in the reservoir was similar. of least resistance is for the steam chamber to spread laterally in
Laterals were drilled horizontally near the base of the reservoir; the Fluvial rather than grow vertically into the Estuarine.
2-3 metres above the base of the reservoir or above the top of
the basal water zone where this was present. This type of The trajectory of a J-well means that instead of relying
trajectory was chosen to allow steam to rise from the wellbore largely on gravity to induce steam to cross the Fluvial-Estuarine
and heat the maximum amount of overlying reservoir. boundary within the reservoir, steam is injected under pressure
from the wellbore directly into the Estuarine layer. This should
In some of the early multi-lateral CSS wells the ends of the promote better recovery from the Estuarine and higher oil
wells were “toe-dipped” into the basal water zone to ensure recovery factors for the reservoir as a whole.
adequate steam injectivity. In later wells this practice was
discontinued as longer well length and higher injection During the production phase of the CSS cycle a benefit
pressures resulted in sufficient injectivity even in the absence of should also be seen from having more of the lower viscosity
basal water. Estuarine oil produced. This should enable rod-pumping to
continue to lower wellhead temperatures before viscous hang-
While the choice of a flat well trajectory close to the base of up occurs, thereby extending the duration of the production
the reservoir appeared to give acceptable early-cycle production phase.
performance there were a number of outstanding questions to be
• Would steam injected by CSS into the (lower) Fluvial
Wellbore Separator Effect During
sands rise into the (upper) Estuarine sands, or would Production
steam chamber growth stop at the Fluvial/Estuarine During production, the inclined wellbore of a J-well acts like
boundary as occurred with SAGD? a 20m tall separator, with steam and gas migrating upwards
along the wellbore while liquid water and oil drains towards the

heel. As the pump is located near the heel this wellbore J-wells in both pads after three cycles is approximately 30%
separator effect should maximize liquid production and better than the flat wells (figure 3). As the cost to drill and
minimize gas production. Retaining gas and steam in the complete a J-well is the same as the cost of a flat well and they
reservoir in this way should conserve reservoir energy, received the same amount of steam, this represents a
maximize drive (ref. 1) and improve pump efficiency. significantly better economic performance by the J-wells.

Lower Producing Temperature at the Heel 2D swath seismic was acquired over Pads 40 and 41 before
injection started and repeated after three cycles of steam
While it is beneficial to heat the reservoir by cyclic steam injection (ref 2). Comparing these seismic surveys enables the
injection and so lower oil viscosity, there is an optimum amount effects of steam injection to be mapped. Figures 4, 5 and 6 are
to raise the reservoir temperature. Heating the reservoir too little maps of maximum negative amplitudes for the upper half of the
will leave the oil viscosity too high and prevent economic reservoir in Pad 40, the lower half of the reservoir, and the total
production rates from being achieved. Yet heating the reservoir reservoir thickness respectively.
too much will have negligible incremental effect on lowering oil
viscosity and will start to generate steam pressures that block It can be seen on these Pad 40 seismic maps that the J-wells
inflow. (drawn in blue) appear to be more effective at delivering steam
all the way to the toes of the laterals and up into the Estuarine
As an example, the initial Peace River reservoir pressure is layer. In contrast, the flat wells (drawn in red) appear to be
approximately 3500 kPa. This is equivalent to a saturated steam delivering most of their heat into the lower Fluvial layer and
temperature of 243 degrees centigrade. If the reservoir near the close to the heels. The toes of the flat wells appear to be
pump contains water and is heated to more than 243ºC, it will receiving less steam.
be impossible to drop the bottomhole pressure at the pump
intake below 3500 kPa without flashing the hot liquid water to This time-lapse seismic response has been correlated with
steam. Steam flashing overloads the casing vent-gas system, temperature measurements made by thermocouples installed in
impairs the efficiency of the pump, makes it difficult to reduce two Pad 40 observation wells. It would seem from this data that
the pump intake pressure below 3500 kPa and will therefore the theoretical benefit of better heat distribution to the toes of
block inflow from the reservoir to the well. the J-wells appears to be occurring in Pad 40.
A J-well trajectory should result in more steam migrating to
the toe of the well by gravity, which would result in the toe of
the J-well becoming hotter than the toe of a flat well. Later J-Well Designs
Distributing heat further away from the heel of the well should Following the encouraging early performance of the Pad 40
keep the reservoir close to the pump slightly cooler and allow and 41 J-wells, additional Peace River CSS wells were drilled
the well to be pumped off more effectively. in 2004 using a modified J-well design. These new wells are
simple horizontal wells, rather than multi-laterals, with the
production casing set near to the base of the reservoir section.
Pad 40 & 41 J-Well Trial
This new design has a number of potential advantages over
Predicting the performance of J-wells at Peace River using the previous J-well design:
reservoir simulation is difficult. Thermal reservoir simulation is
complex and simulating high pressure CSS is particularly • The cost to drill is less and well interventions are easier.
difficult with the geomechanical effects of pore dilation and • Steam conformance is more predictable in simple
fracturing, and the persistent technical problem of getting the horizontal wells (there is no means of ensuring that
simulator to reproduce the low early cycle water production steam is distributed evenly to all three laterals in the
observed in the field. multi-lateral tuning-fork design).
• Setting the production casing at the base of the reservoir
Adding to this complexity is the fact that most of the should retain more gas and steam in the reservoir,
theoretical benefits of a J-well design involve complex wellbore compared to the tuning-fork wells which do not have a
hydraulics, sometimes in multi-lateral wells, that cannot be pressure-tight seal at the point where the laterals exit
readily modeled in existing thermal reservoir simulators. from the main wellbore.
In consequence it was decided to test the J-well design by In theory this last point might increase the ultimate recovery
comparing it in the field to flat multi-lateral wells. The first of oil compared to conventional CSS well designs. Setting the
multi-lateral J-well, Shell Peace River 41-7, was drilled in 2002 well intake point close to the base of the reservoir may result in
as one of seven wells in Pad 41. This was followed by three more of a vertical steam-flood/gravity drainage effect being
more tuning-fork J-wells wells drilled in 2002 in Pad 40. The created, with steam displacing oil from the top to the bottom of
three Pad 40 J-wells (40-6, 40-8 and 40-10) were alternated the reservoir. However, the Peace River J-wells have only
with flat wells, to minimize the effect of variations in reservoir completed three cycles of CSS and it is too early to establish
properties on well performance. All wells were given equal how effective these gravity-dominated reservoir production
amounts of steam and produced with similar pumping mechanisms will prove to be.
Early J-Well Results Several theoretical benefits have been identified for the
J-well trajectory when applied to CSS wells at Shell Canada’s
Early indications of J-well performance in Pads 40 and 41 Peace River heavy oilfield:
are encouraging. Both pads have been through three complete
steam cycles. The average cumulative oil-steam ratio of the

• Better distribution of steam at the end of the wellbore. Figures
• Prevents liquid accumulation of steam condensate at the toe.
• Promotes vertical steam chamber growth into the upper
(low permeability) Estuarine layer.
• Acts as a gas-liquid separator during production for
improved pump efficiency.
• Conserves gas/steam in the reservoir to promote solution
gas drive and gravity drainage. PREP
Pad 30
• Reduces wellbore temperature at the heel, which may Pad 19
improve inflow performance in later cycles. PRISP

J-well trajectories have been tested on four multi-lateral

Pad 20 Pad 21
wells in two Peace River pads. Time-lapse seismic has indicated Pad 31
differences in how steam is distributed in the reservoir between
J-well and flat wells in Pad 40 that are consistent with these
theoretical benefits. HWDP

After three cycles of CSS operation the average cumulative

Pad 40
oil-steam ratio of the multi-lateral J-wells is 30% better than the
flat multi-lateral wells. More recent Peace River CSS wells
employ a single-lateral J-well design that is expected to improve
steam conformance and vertical sweep at reduced drilling cost.
Pad 41

The author thanks Shell Canada Limited for permission to
publish this paper and Peter McGillivray for the time-lapse
seismic images of Pad 40. Figure 1. Peace River Development Area

CSS = Cyclic steam stimulation
OSR = Oil-steam ratio, m3 oil produced per m3
cold water equivalent steam injected Flat well
PCSD = Pressure cycle steam drive
PRISP = Peace River In-Situ Pilot
PREP = Peace River Expansion Project
SAGD = Steam assisted gravity drainage
Heat build
REFERENCES up at heel Liquid build
1. Denbina, E.S.: “Evaluation of Key Reservoir Drive Fluvial up at toe
Mechanisms in the Early Cycles of Steam Stimulation at
Cold Lake”, paper SPE 16737, 62nd Annual SPE
Technical Conference & Exhibition, Dallas TX, 27-30
September 1987

2. McGillivray, P.: “Microseismic and Time-Lapse J-Well

Monitoring of a Heavy Oil Extraction Process at Peace
River”, expanded abstract CPS1.7 presented at the 2004
Annual Intl. Meeting of the Soc. of Exploration
Geophysicists, Denver, 10-15 October 2004
Estuarine Steam & gas

Fluvial Oil & water

Figure 2. J-Well Performance Comparison

Pad 40 Oil-Steam Ratios
J wells
Regular wells
Cumulative OSR



















Figure 6. Pad 40 total reservoir time-lapse amplitudes











Figure 3. Pad 40 Cumulative Oil-Steam Ratios

Top Bluesky
Heat in Estuarine at toe of J-well

Top Basal Water

Figure 4. Pad 40 upper reservoir time-lapse amplitudes

Figure 7. Single-lateral J-well design
Heat in Fluvial at heel of flat well

Figure 5. Pad 40 lower reservoir time-lapse amplitudes