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Well Drilled in 1894 – Abandoned in 2021 – Read About it Here


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In 1894 the Geological Society of Canada (GSC) drilled their first well in an effort to find the southeastern border of the Athabasca Tar Sands. This mission alternatively exposed a formation rich in natural gas to a depth 540 meters. In 1896, operations ceased, leaving the well incorrectly abandoned and forgotten. That is, until a complaint was received siting a gas leak that was found to be from an old wellhead buried beside the Athabasca River.

In partnership with RPS, Codeco-Vanoco Engineering Inc. was consulted to develop a plan to properly abandon the well 135 years later. Although the leak was found to be “non-serious”, venting at a rate of 24m3/day, corrections needed to be taken and it was going to require unconventional thought to address the multiple barriers that comprised this unique project.

To start with, there was a lack of documentation and understanding of the wellbore integrity. A GSC report suggested that there was 4 5/8” casing used but that detail was not verified nor was there record of whether the well had been re-entered since original operations.

Furthermore, the location of the well head proved to be a problem. First, it was located inside the town of Athabasca, with a major highway running adjacent to the river and an active business and residential area nearby. Second, the well head rested a mere 3 meters away from the actual Athabasca River shadowed by the 40 degree slope of a river bank.

Finally, time was a factor. The imminent Spring thaw and the change of ice flow meant that road bans would be in effect March 15th and with initial planning starting January 25th, 2021, little time was available to secure permits and discuss strategy. Initially, building a 650m ice road on the Athabasca River during the winter was considered to transport the heavy equipment to the site via the river. A temporary barrier, known as a cofferdam, would also need to be built to create a dry and solid area for the equipment over the well. Unfortunately, this approach would likely double the project’s budget and delay the start by one year as it was already too late in the season to begin building the road. Instead, approaching the project from another “angle” proved most effective.

Reaching the well from above using a 275 ton crane with a coil tubing rig eliminated the need to build a costly ice road. This unique access point allowed entry to the well with the least disturbance to the riverbank. The well was re-entered and cemented correctly eliminating the gas leak ahead of schedule by 10 days. The well will continue to be monitored over the next few seasons until eventually it will be cut off below the surface, capped, and the site will be reclaimed. The community of Athabasca was grateful to have the well secured quickly with minimal disturbance.

If you have a difficult or unique project that needs assistance, whether that be in drilling or completions, abandonments or workovers, asset liability management or construction, geothermal or renewal energy, Codeco-Vanoco can help. As a recognized engineering firm in the energy industry, Codeco-Vanoco has a reputation for excellence and innovation that dates back to the 1980’s.  Well positioned within the industry with Professional Engineering Certifications, good working relations with regulatory agencies at all levels and deep insight into regional service markets, Codeco-Vanoco is your trusted solution when it comes to operations in various North American producing basins.

Learn more about Codeco-Vanoco Engineering Inc. by visiting their website: codeco-vanoco.com



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