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The promise of ESEIEH

November 19, 2012

An acronym that sounds like something out of the Old Testament, it actually stands for Enhanced Solvent Extraction Incorporating Electromagnetic Heating. It’s a revolutionary and experimental bitumen recovery technique led by Harris Corp.

ESEIEH is like SAGD in that it uses parallel horizontal wells to capture the bitumen. Yet ESEIEH replaces the need for water by heating the oil sands electrically with radio waves. An oil solvent is then injected to dilute and mobilize the bitumen with minimal energy requirements, so that it can be extracted and transported for further processing. By reducing the energy required and eliminating the need for water, the ESEIEH process is expected to improve environmental performance, while providing greater efficiency and versatility in oil sands recovery operations. See the videos noted in sources a) and b) below.

The anticipated benefits of ESEIEH technology in oil sands production include:

The electromagnetic heating technology was first evaluated and tested in Florida last year and then moved to Fort McMurray for the proof-of-concept field testing. The next phase — an expanded pilot field test — is scheduled to begin in 2013. Some elements of the technology solution may become commercially available prior to the final testing.

The consortium of Laricina Energy (privately held), Nexen Inc. (ticker NXY on TSX), Suncor Energy (SU on TSX) and Harris Corporation (HRS on NYSE) completed its initial phase testing of the Enhanced Solvent Extraction Incorporating Electromagnetic Heating (ESEIEH - pronounced “easy”) project at Suncor’s Steepbank mine facility north of Fort McMurray. The $33 million program is supported half by the consortium and half by the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC). CCEMC, a not-for-profit organization whose mandate is to establish or participate in funding for initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support adaptation. The CCEMC invests in discovery, development, and operational deployment of clean technologies.

Siemens, the large German multi-national, has entered the fray with a similar technology it calls EMGD.


The oil sands is a story of research and innovation. ESEIEH holds much promise, but is very much a greenfield technology. We are not sure it will work well in a large industrial scale. It will be interesting to see how the technology proceeds after its 2013 pilot.