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Enhanced oil recovery

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Title: Enhanced oil recovery  
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Enhanced oil recovery

This article is about stimulating production from conventional oil fields. For oil-sand information, see oil sands.
Injection well used for enhanced oil recovery

Enhanced Oil Recovery (abbreviated EOR) is a generic term for techniques for increasing the amount of crude oil that can be extracted from an oil field. Enhanced oil recovery is also called improved oil recovery or tertiary recovery (as opposed to primary and secondary recovery). Sometimes the term quaternary recovery is used to refer to more advanced, speculative, EOR techniques.[1][2][3][4] Using EOR, 30 to 60 percent or more of the reservoir's original oil can be extracted,[5] compared with 20 to 40 percent using primary and secondary recovery.[6][7]

There currently are several different methods of enhanced oil recovery including steam flood and water flood injection and hydraulic fracturing.[8][9][10]

Gas injection

Gas injection or miscible flooding is presently the most-commonly used approach in enhanced oil recovery. Miscible flooding is a general term for injection processes that introduce miscible gases into the reservoir. A miscible displacement process maintains reservoir pressure and improves oil displacement because the interfacial tension between oil and water is reduced. This refers to removing the interface between the two interacting fluids. This allows for total displacement efficiency.[11] Gases used include CO2, natural gas or nitrogen. The fluid most commonly used for miscible displacement is carbon dioxide because it reduces the oil viscosity and is less expensive than liquefied petroleum gas.[11] Oil displacement by carbon dioxide injection relies on the phase behavior of the mixtures of that gas and the crude, which are strongly dependent on reservoir temperature, pressure and crude oil composition.

Miscible solvents

The injection of various chemicals, usually as dilute solutions, have been used to aid mobility and the reduction in surface tension. Injection of alkaline or caustic solutions into reservoirs with oil that has organic acids naturally occurring in the oil will result in the production of soap that may lower the interfacial tension enough to increase production. Injection of a dilute solution of a water soluble polymer to increase the viscosity of the injected water can increase the amount of oil recovered in some formations. Dilute solutions of surfactants such as petroleum sulfonates or biosurfactants such as rhamnolipids may be injected to lower the interfacial tension or capillary pressure that impedes oil droplets from moving through a reservoir. Special formulations of oil, water and surfactant, microemulsions, can be particularly effective in this. Application of these methods is usually limited by the cost of the chemicals and their adsorption and loss onto the rock of the oil containing formation. In all of these methods the chemicals are injected into several wells and the production occurs in other nearby wells.

Polymer flooding

Polymer flooding consists in mixing long chain polymer molecules with the injected water in order to increase the water viscosity. This method improves the vertical and areal sweep efficiency as a consequence of improving the water/oil Mobility ratio. In addition,the polymer reduces the contrasts in permeability by preferentially plugging the high permeability zones flooded by polymers. This forces the water to flood the lower permeability zones and increases the sweep efficiency.

Surfactants may be used in conjonction with polymers; They decrease the surface tension between the oil and water. This reduces the residual oil saturation and improves the microscopic efficiency of the process.

Primary surfactants usually have co-surfactants, activity boosters, and co-solvents added to them to improve stability of the formulation.

Caustic flooding is the addition of sodium hydroxide to injection water. It does this by lowering the surface tension, reversing the rock wettability, emulsification of the oil, mobilization of the oil and helps in drawing the oil out of the rock.

Microbial injection

Microbial injection is part of microbial enhanced oil recovery and is rarely used because of its higher cost and because the developments is not widely accepted. These microbes function either by partially digesting long hydrocarbon molecules, by generating biosurfactants, or by emitting carbon dioxide (which then functions as described in Gas injection above).[12]

Three approaches have been used to achieve microbial injection. In the first approach, bacterial cultures mixed with a food source (a carbohydrate such as molasses is commonly used) are injected into the oil field. In the second approach, used since 1985,[13] nutrients are injected into the ground to nurture existing microbial bodies; these nutrients cause the bacteria to increase production of the natural surfactants they normally use to metabolize crude oil underground.[14] After the injected nutrients are consumed, the microbes go into near-shutdown mode, their exteriors become hydrophilic, and they migrate to the oil-water interface area, where they cause oil droplets to form from the larger oil mass, making the droplets more likely to migrate to the wellhead. This approach has been used in oilfields near the Four Corners and in the Beverly Hills Oil Field in Beverly Hills, California.

The third approach is used to address the problem of paraffin wax components of the crude oil, which tend to precipitate as the crude flows to the surface, since the Earth's surface is considerably cooler than the petroleum deposits (a temperature drop of 9-10-14 °C per thousand feet of depth is usual).

Liquid carbon dioxide superfluids

Carbon dioxide is particularly effective in reservoirs deeper than 2,000 ft., where CO2 will be in a supercritical state. In high pressure applications with lighter oils, CO2 is miscible with the oil, with resultant swelling of the oil, and reduction in viscosity, and possibly also with a reduction in the surface tension with the reservoir rock. In the case of low pressure reservoirs or heavy oils, CO2 will form an immiscible fluid, or will only partially mix with the oil. Some oil swelling may occur, and oil viscosity can still be significantly reduced.[15]

In these applications, between one-half and two-thirds of the injected CO2 returns with the produced oil and is usually re-injected into the reservoir to minimize operating costs. The remainder is trapped in the oil reservoir by various means. Carbon Dioxide as a solvent has the benefit of being more economical than other similarly miscible fluids such as propane and butane.[16]

Hydrocarbon displacement

Hydrocarbon displacement is where a slug of hydrocarbon gas is pushed into the reservoir in order to form a miscible phase at high pressure. This however suffers from poor mobility ratio, and the solvent’s ability to dissolve the oil is reduced as it goes through. As with all methods, this is only attempted when it is deemed economical.[8]

Thermal methods

The steam flooding technique

In this approach, various methods are used to heat the crude oil in the formation to reduce its viscosity and/or vaporize part of the oil and thus decrease the mobility ratio. The increased heat reduces the surface tension and increases the permeability of the oil. The heated oil may also vaporize and then condense forming improved oil. Methods include cyclic steam injection, steam flooding and combustion. These methods improve the sweep efficiency and the displacement efficiency. Steam injection has been used commercially since the 1960s in California fields.[9] In 2011 solar thermal enhanced oil recovery projects were started in California and Oman, this method is similar to thermal EOR but uses a solar array to produce the steam.

Steam flooding

Steam flooding (see sketch) is one means of introducing heat to the reservoir by pumping steam into the well with a pattern similar to that of water injection. Eventually the steam condenses to hot water, in the steam zone the oil evaporates and in the hot water zone the oil expands. As a result the oil expands the viscosity drops and the permeability increases. To ensure success the process has to be cyclical. This is the principal enhanced oil recovery program in use today.

  • Solar EOR is a form of steam flooding that uses solar arrays to concentrate the sun’s energy to heat water and generate steam. Solar EOR is proving to be a viable alternative to gas-fired steam production for the oil industry.
Solar enhanced oil recovery site

Fire flooding

Fire flooding works best when the oil saturation and porosity are high. Combustion generates the heat within the reservoir itself. Continuous injection of air or other gas mixture with high oxygen content will maintain the flame front. As the fire burns, it moves through the reservoir toward production wells. Heat from the fire reduces oil viscosity and helps vaporize reservoir water to steam. The steam, hot water, combustion gas and a bank of distilled solvent all act to drive oil in front of the fire toward production wells.[17]

There are three methods of combustion: Dry forward, reverse and wet combustion. Dry forward uses an igniter to set fire to the oil. As the fire progresses the oil is pushed away from the fire toward the producing well. In reverse the air injection and the ignition occur from opposite directions. In wet combustion water is injected just behind the front and turned into steam by the hot rock this quenches the fire and spreads the heat more evenly.

Economic costs and benefits

Adding oil recovery methods adds to the cost of oil —in the case of CO2 typically between 0.5-8.0 US$ per tonne of CO2. The increased extraction of oil on the other hand, is an economic benefit with the revenue depending on prevailing oil prices.[18] Onshore EOR has paid in the range of a net 10-16 US$ per tonne of CO2 injected for oil prices of 15-20 US$/barrel. Prevailing prices depend on many factors but can determine the economic suitability of any procedure, with more procedures and more expensive procedures being economically viable at higher prices. Example: With oil prices at around 90 US$/barrel, the economic benefit is about 70 US$ per tonne CO2.

A Canadian project: CO2- EOR combined with CO2 storage

In Canada, a CO2-EOR project has been established by Cenovus Energy at the Weyburn Oil Field in southern Saskatchewan since 2000. The project is expected to inject a net 18 million ton CO2 and recover an additional 130 million barrels (21,000,000 m3) of oil, extending the life of the oil field by 25 years.(Brown 2001)[19] There is a projected 26+ million tonnes (net of production) of CO2 to be stored in Weyburn, plus another 8.5 million tonnes (net of production) stored at the Weyburn-Midale Carbon Dioxide Project, resulting in a net reduction in atmospheric CO2 by CO2 storage in the oilfield . That's the equivalent of taking nearly 7 million cars off the road for a year.[20] Since CO2 injection began in late 2000, the EOR project has performed largely as predicted. Currently, some 1600 m3 (10,063 barrels) per day of incremental oil is being produced from the field.

Potential for CO2 EOR in the United States

The United States has been using CO2 EOR for several decades. For over 30 years, oil fields in the Permian Basin have implemented CO2 EOR using naturally sourced CO2 from New Mexico and Colorado.[21] The Department of Energy (DOE) has estimated that full use of 'next generation' CO2-EOR in United States could generate an additional 240 billion barrels (38 km3) of recoverable oil resources. Developing this potential would depend on the availability of commercial CO2 in large volumes, which could be made possible by widespread use of carbon capture and storage. For comparison, the total undeveloped US domestic oil resources still in the ground total more than 1 trillion barrels (160 km3), most of it remaining unrecoverable. The DOE estimates that if the EOR potential were to be fully realized, state and local treasuries would gain $280 billion in revenues from future royalties, severance taxes, and state income taxes on oil production, aside from other economic benefits.

Kemper County energy facility

The Kemper County energy facility, or Kemper Project, is expected to be online in 2015, and once operational, will utilize captured carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery.[22] The unique location of the Kemper Project, and its proximity to oil reserves, makes it an ideal candidate for enhanced oil recovery.

Environmental impacts

Enhanced oil recovery wells typically pump large quantities of brine to the surface. The brine may contain toxic heavy metals and radioactive substances, as well as being very salty. This can be very damaging to drinking water sources and the environment generally if not properly controlled.[23][24]

In the United States, injection well activity is regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state governments under the Safe Drinking Water Act.[25] EPA has issued Underground Injection Control (UIC) regulations in order to protect drinking water sources.[26] Enhanced oil recovery wells are regulated as Class II wells by the EPA. The regulations require well operators to reinject the brine used for recovery deep underground in Class II Disposal Wells.[23]

See also


  1. ^ Hobson, George Douglas; Eric Neshan Tiratsoo (1975). Introduction to petroleum geology. Scientific Press.  
  2. ^ Walsh, Mark; Larry W. Lake (2003). A generalized approach to primary hydrocarbon recovery. Elsevier. 
  3. ^ Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 21st century technologies. 1998. OECD Publishing. p. 39.  
  4. ^ Smith, Charles (1966). Mechanics of secondary oil recovery. Reinhold Pub. Corp. 
  5. ^ United States Department of Energy, Washington, DC (2011). "Enhanced Oil Recovery/CO2 Injection."
  6. ^ Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto, CA (1999). "Enhanced Oil Recovery Scoping Study." Final Report, No. TR-113836.
  7. ^ Clean Air Task Force (2009). "About EOR"
  8. ^ a b Kenneth S. Deffeyes (17 November 2011). Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage (New Edition). Princeton University Press. pp. 107–.  
  9. ^ a b Carcoana, Aurel (1992). Applied Enhanced Oil Recovery. Prentice Hall.  
  10. ^ Baviere, M. (2007). Basic Concepts in Enhanced Oil Recovery Processes. London: Elsevier Applied Science.  
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ "Tiny Prospectors", Chemical & Engineering News, 87, 6, p. 20
  13. ^ Nelson, S.J.,Launt, P.D., (March 18, 1991) "Stripper Well Production Increased with MEOR Treatment", Oil & Gas Journal, vol-89, issue-11, pgs 115-118
  14. ^ Titan Oil Recovery, Inc., Beverly Hills, CA. "Bringing New Life to Oil Fields." Accessed 2012-10-15.
  15. ^ "CO2 for use in enhanced oil recovery (EOR)". Global CCS Institute. Retrieved 2012-02-25. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Austell, J Michael (2005). "CO2 for Enhanced Oil Recovery Needs - Enhanced Fiscal Incentives". Exploration & Production: the Oil & Gas Review -. Retrieved 2007-09-28. 
  19. ^ Brown, Ken; Jazrawi, Waleed; Moberg, R.; Wilson, M. (14–7 May 2001) (PDF). Role of Enhanced Oil Recovery in Carbon Sequestration. The Weyburn Monitoring Project, a case study (Report).
  20. ^
  21. ^ Logan, Jeffrey and Venezia, John (2007)."CO2-Enhanced Oil Recovery." Excerpt from a WRI Policy Note, "Weighing U.S. Energy Options: The WRI Bubble Chart." World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.
  22. ^ "CO2 Capture at the Kemper County IGCC Project". DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory. 
  23. ^ a b U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Washington, DC. "Oil and Gas Related Injection Wells (Class II)." Updated 2010-01-22.
  24. ^ Gleason, Robert A.; Tangen, Brian A. (2014). Brine Contamination to Aquatic Resources from Oil and Gas Development in the Williston Basin, United States. Reston, VA: United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 
  25. ^ EPA. "Basic Information about Injection Wells." Updated 2010-01-22.
  26. ^ EPA. "Underground Injection Control Program: Regulations." Updated 2010-01-22.
  • IPCC Special Report on Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage. Chapter 5, Underground geological storage. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2005.
  • US Department of Energy analysis of EOR potential Game Changer Improvements Could Dramatically Increase Domestic Oil Resource Recovery. An analysis by Advanced Resources International, Arlington, VA, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy. Advanced Resources International, February 2006. See also press release

External links

  • Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute - University of Wyoming
  • Licensable Technology: Particle Stabilized Emulsions of Carbon Dioxide & Water for Enhanced Oil Recovery & Extraction Processes - Massachusetts Technology Portal
  • Oilfield Glossary: Enhanced Oil Recovery - Schlumberger, Ltd.
  • Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering - University of Texas at Austin
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