The rapid growth in interest and in development activities related to unconventional oil and gas resources, including heavy oil, is clearly evident throughout the industry. One outcome has been a tremendous increase in the number of SPE papers written this past year on various topics associated with development and recovery optimization of heavy-oil reservoirs. Another is that petroleum-engineering departments at many more universities worldwide are actively engaged in teaching courses and performing research related directly to viscous- and/or heavy-oil recovery.

One topic in particular has gained more attention: development and application of enhanced thermal-recovery methods that use various solvents as a means to improve recovery and to reduce operating costs significantly relative to conventional thermal projects. Continued knowledge development in this subject area through a combination of reservoir-scale physics and chemical-process analysis, simulation capability advancement, laboratory testing, and field-piloting work is needed to enable operators to design and implement these methods effectively and commercially, especially for viable development of thinner, lower-quality heavy-oil reservoirs. One synopsis paper and a reading paper were selected to provide further insights regarding the potential and the challenges associated with the use of solvent-recovery techniques in such applications.

The other papers were chosen to illustrate the variety and significance of the challenges operators may encounter in assessing and/or pursuing the development of heavy-oil reservoirs under different settings and conditions. These include various problems that had to be dealt with during testing of a heavy-oil well in an offshore location; the many planning issues, design tradeoffs, and performance considerations associated with the sequencing and conversion of a heavy-oil-field development from cold to hot production; the difficulties experienced in planning and conducting
pilot operations in a high-viscosity oil field overlain by thick permafrost in the Russian Arctic; and the ability to achieve adequate recovery with steaming of fractured carbonate reservoirs.

Recent literature also describes several interesting technology developments, modeling studies, and field-trial activities related to the use of in-situ combustion and electrical-heating methods as alternative heavy-oil-recovery techniques. Several additional papers present results from investigations of CO2 injection into heavyoil or bitumen reservoirs to achieve both improved oil recovery and greenhouse-gas sequestration, while many others describe new developments and/or field experiences involving waterflooding and polymer flooding of heavy-oil reservoirs. The many papers written on these topics can be sourced through OnePetro.

Read the paper synopses in the March 2012 issue of JPT.

Cam Matthews, SPE, is Director–New Technology Ventures for C-FER Technologies, organizing R&D programs related to production operations and drilling and completions. He holds five patents on drilling and production processes. Matthews earned BS and MSc degrees in civil engineering from the University of
Manitoba and the University of Alberta, respectively. He serves as a Director of the SPE R&D Technical Section, on two ad hoc SPE Board committees, and on the JPT Editorial Committee.