Why U.S.A needs investment in Enhanced Oil Recovery technology for energy security?

In general, crude oil production from oil reservoirs can include up to three distinct phases: primary, secondary and tertiary (or enhanced) recovery. During the primary recovery of crude oil, the oil is produced because of reservoir energy as the pressure thousands of feet below the surface is high enough to push the oil to the surface. Typically only about 5-20% of a reservoir’s original oil in place is typically produced during primary recovery.
However, with much of the easy-to-produce oil already recovered from domestic oil-fields, producers have attempted several tertiary, or enhanced oil recovery techniques that offer prospects for ultimately producing a total of 60% or more of the original oil in place. Many of EOR technologies are still in their developmental phase with many successful laboratory studies already conducted. Enhanced oil recovery methods can be classified into three major categories:  thermal, miscible gas and chemical.[1]
While a Mature Hydrocarbon Province, the U.S. Still Has 400 Billion Barrels of Undeveloped Technically Recoverable Oil Resource. Undeveloped domestic oil resources still in the ground (in-place) total 1,124 billion barrels. Of this large in-place resource, 400 billon barrels is estimated to be technically recoverable. This resource includes undiscovered oil, “stranded” light oil amenable to CO2-EOR technologies, unconventional oil (deep heavy oil and oil sands) and new petroleum concepts (residual oil in reservoir transition zones). [3] The good thing about CO2-EOR technologies is that CO2 is pumped in ground to displace oil out from the underground. That is not totally eliminating GHG emissions but reduces them by as much as 24 percent. It is like making money out of carbon capture and storage today. [4]
In view of the world-wide shortage of petroleum and the fact that almost 50% to 60% of the original oil in place is left in the reservoirs at the end of secondary recovery, the importance of enhanced oil recovery methods to produce additional oil can hardly be overstated. U.S leads the world in the EOR technology. As the leader in EOR technology, the U.S. oil industry faces the challenge of further applying this technology towards economically producing the more costly remaining domestic oil resources. While pursuing this remaining domestic oil resource base poses considerable economic risk and technical challenge to producers, developing the technical capability and infrastructure necessary to exploit this resource reduces our dependence on foreign energy sources and helps our domestic energy industry maintain worldwide technical leadership. [2]
(1) ‘Mechanisms of Surfactant Enhanced oil Recovery in Oil-Wet Fractured Carbonate Reservoirs’. Doctoral thesis presented to the faculty of chemical engineering at University of Houston. By Bhargaw Adibhatla.
(2) ‘Technology’, Chapter 3 of Hard Truths. A report submitted to the secretary of energy by National Petroleum Council.
(3) Undeveloped Domestic Oil Resources Provide Foundation For Increasing U.S. Oil Supply. An analysis by Advanced Resources International, Arlington, VA, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy.


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2 responses to “Why U.S.A needs investment in Enhanced Oil Recovery technology for energy security?

  1. mvineyard

    My understanding is that the Weyburn oil field, operated by EnCana, in Saskatchewan has been an excellent test site for CO2-EOR technologies because there is a long history of thorough geological tests there.

    Production at the Weyburn field peaked in the 1960s at 47,000 barrels per day and rapidly declined over the next 20 years to 9,000 bpd until secondary recovery methods were employed in the mid 1980s.

    In 2000, CO2 delivery to Weyburn began. Initially, production improved, increasing to 20,000 bpd in 2005. However, EnCana’s initial production estimates from enhanced recovery techniques were for 30,000 bpd from 2006 -2015.

    Things have not exactly gone according to plan. In 2005, production peaked at 30,000 bpd and a steady decline began thereafter. I believe the concern is if C02-EOR methods fall short of production estimates there is a significant economic risk for funding Carbon Capture and Storage in other fields.

  2. smullins02

    In theory using CO2 for enhanced oil recovery is a great idea – capture something that is currently being emitted and put it back in the ground resulting in the production of more oil, which could provide more energy security. While there may be some projects that one might consider a “lowest hanging fruit” meaning easy to execute at a low cost, once you move away from such a project costs escalate quickly.

    The first step in the carbon capture process is capturing or separating the CO2. Capture is the most costly and energy-intensive step of the CCS process because it requires capture, cleaning, and compressing the CO2. So in say a natural gas plant you are already removing CO2 from the produced gas in order to have a commercial product, and that CO2 might be highly concentrated. Otherwise you must upgrade the facility to remove CO2 and potentially to clean it to have a pure CO2 stream. The compression be it through electricity or natural gas fired turbines is extremely fuel intensive and the compressors themselves are very expensive.

    The second step is the transporting of the compressed CO2. CO2 must be transported through a specific pipeline. This means that if the infrastructure doesn’t already exist, a new pipeline would have to be built. There are existing CO2 pipelines in the US, such as the Cortez pipeline that runs from New Mexico to the Permian Basin, but in most cases even a connector pipeline would be necessary.

    The third step is storage, and in this case the CO2 would be stored in the domestic oil fields. Storage provides its own complications and challenges. The fields would require extensive monitoring to ensure that the CO2 is not seeping back out of the ground. There are also questions around who technically owns the CO2 at this point and who is responsible for those monitoring costs.

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