Air injection in heavy oil and bitumen reservoirs, also known as in-situ
combustion or fireflooding, is an enhanced recovery process that has been
around for several decades. While on paper or in the laboratory this oil
recovery process shows tremendous potential, its success in past field
applications has been spotty at best.
Times have changed, and so has our understanding of air injection-based oil
recovery processes. Our available technologies for accessing and producing the
reservoir and our emphasis on reducing environmental impacts have changed as
well. In short, the industry is smarter, has better technology, and maintains a
significant commitment to sustainable resource development.
This paper reviews portions of the past history of air injection in Canadian
heavy oil and bitumen reservoirs; discusses the significant advances in our
understanding of the in-situ process; reviews currently successful
air-injection projects; summarizes the keys to successful implementation of
air-injection-based recovery processes; and proposes several novel applications
of air injection, including hybrid processes with steam or vapour solvent,
in-situ upgrading, in-situ steam generation, and in-situ gasification.
Since its accidental discovery in the early 1900s, the use of air injection
as an enhanced oil recovery process has experienced a somewhat checkered
history. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was actively and successfully advanced as a
thermal process for heavy oils in California. Many of those projects have been
summarized by Chu(1) and Sarathi(2). The successes in California brought
in-situ combustion or fireflooding to Canadian heavy oils and bitumens in the
1960s to 1980s. While there were some successes in these pilots and projects,
there were many more failures, and air injection in heavy oils never seemed to
reach its theoretical potential.
In the two decades that have elapsed since then, significant research
efforts have been made to understand both the causes of failures and successes
in past in-situ combustion projects. At the same time, the heavy oil industry
has evolved significantly.
© 2010.Society of Petroleum Engineers
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- Original manuscript received:
12 October 2007
- Meeting paper published:
12 June 2007
- Revised manuscript received:
5 November 2009
- Manuscript approved:
5 December 2009