Stacked end-to-end, the number of barrels Suncor’s Firebag site has produced since it began operations almost 20 years ago could reach to the moon and back.
On Jan. 7, the in situ site produced its 750 millionth barrel of oil, a milestone that Adam Albeldawi, VP, In Situ, says is significant and there’s a lot more in store for the northern Alberta facility.

“When we look at the life-long potential for this asset, Firebag has an enormous amount of remaining reserve, with the potential to generate production well into the future.”

Located 120 kilometres northeast of Fort McMurray, Firebag, which takes its name from the leather bag used by Indigenous peoples to carry hot coals for fire-starting purposes, produces up to 215,000 barrels of oil a day. It’s Suncor’s largest in situ operations, with about 600 wells and a workforce of up to 1,000 during peak times that fly-in from across the country.

As the third commercial in situ steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) facility built in Alberta, Firebag produced its first million barrels in 2004 and reached a 500-million-barrel milestone in 2018. 

“We owe much of our success to the workforce that keeps the facility running smoothly, safely and consistently,” explains Adam. “The work of our operations and maintenance teams is key to keeping the facility running without disruption.”

SAGD is an innovative technology used to extract bitumen that is buried too deep to be accessed by traditional oil sands mining. Using vertically drilled, horizontal-running wells that send steam deep down to permeate the oil sands, bitumen is warmed to the point that it can flow and be brought to the surface. 

Nathan Kupsch, GM, In Situ Resources, has been supporting Firebag since the early 2000s and has had a hands-on role in implementing continual improvements. 

“One of the biggest lessons for us has been how to drill and operate wells at the optimum operating pressure to get the most value from the steam we generate,” explains Nathan. “This helps us both in operating costs and energy intensity—reducing our emissions and the amount of energy we use to produce the bitumen.”

A portion of Firebag’s production is sent to Suncor’s Base Plant for upgrading, while the rest is sold to market.

Now that Firebag has reached this milestone, Adam says the goal hasn’t changed: “We’re focused on ensuring a safe operation for everyone on our site, and continuing to improve our energy efficiency, overall productivity and cost competitiveness through digital tools and data analytics.”

“A key focus for this year at Firebag is a major turnaround—the largest in Firebag’s history, which is planned for later this year,” adds Adam. “Collectively, all of these efforts will help us be a more efficient operator and continue to safely and reliably deliver on our commitments.” 

This webpage contains certain forward-looking information and forward-looking statements (collectively referred to herein as “forward-looking statements”) within the meaning of applicable Canadian and U.S. securities laws. Forward-looking statements in this publication include statements regarding the Firebag project, including the benefits expected therefrom such as: the duration of asset life and production associated therefrom; production rates; technological, environmental, operational and energy efficiencies and sustainability; beneficial impacts on operating costs, energy intensity, emissions reduction and associated resource consumption; Suncor’s expectations around the socio-economic benefits which could be attained through the Firebag project, including employment opportunities, economic growth, enhanced community investment and the provision of valuable revenue for governments and our expectations surrounding stakeholder engagement.  Please see our Legal & Privacy webpage for more information regarding Forward-Looking Statements.