Category Archives: Production and Operations


Heavy Oil

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.


Production Operations

At the 2011 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in Denver, there were many interesting discussions on shale-gas (and/or liquid-rich) resources. While already an important part of the industry, we are just beginning to identify some of the challenges with these resources and how best to deal with them. With hydraulic fracturing being an integral part of these operations, one area of focus is how to optimize the well geometry and the fracturing treatment to achieve long-term production and high ultimate recovery. Nevertheless, two other key considerations concern where to obtain the huge volumes of water that are required for these fracturing jobs, and what water treatment is required to ensure a safe and problem-free operation. With the need to rely less and less on fresh surface water to minimize the environmental effects, operators have been forced to explore other options, including finding suitable aquifers and/or water-recycling technologies. Some of the papers featured in this issue (or listed as additional reading) illustrate some of these challenges and how companies are trying to address them.

During this last year, we also saw an increase in the use of inflow-control devices in conjunction with horizontal wells in a variety of applications throughout the world. One of the most interesting developments is that of the so-called “autonomous” devices, which should be capable of adjusting themselves on basis of the type of fluid flowing through them (i.e., applying more choking to less-viscous fluids such as water and gas). There also have been interesting advancements in sandface-monitoring systems, as illustrated in two of the papers in the reading list.

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

Francisco J.S. Alhanati, SPE, is Director of Exploration & Production for C-FER Technologies. Previously, he was with Petrobras. Most of Alhanati’s 29-year career has been in applied R&D related to well construction and production operations. He has served on several SPE committees, as an SPE Distinguished Lecturer, and as a Technical Reviewer for the SPE Journal, and he serves on the JPT Editorial Committee. Alhanati holds a PhD degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Tulsa.


Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic Fracturing: 2012 and Beyond

It is a good time to be in the oil industry. The rig count, drilling activity, and oil prices are high, and shale plays are a significant reason for each. And, because it is shale, it is an especially good time to be a completion engineer!

Even though we have been able to make these unconventional reservoirs economic by drilling horizontal wells and by multistage fracturing, it is important for us to realize (especially with low gas prices) that there is still plenty to learn about shale fracing (not spelled “fracking”). Buzz words fly around the industry: complex fractures, brittle vs. ductile shale, proppant transport in slickwater, and more. Each is a start, but what I challenge everyone to do is to ask the questions: What is really happening when we are fracturing the various shale plays; and how do we model it so that
we can predict and optimize performance?

Economic and political implications of shale are enormous. The USA recently, for the first time in many years, became a net exporter of energy. The USA has clear shale development advantages compared with other countries at this time because it has the rigs, hydraulic horsepower, personnel, and a long history of hydraulic fracturing.

But truth be told, there are disadvantages that must be dealt with. The USA is dealing with an oversupply of gas, which is reducing prices and making shale-gas plays marginally economical. To date, despite industry efforts, there still is no political will to substitute fuel sources on a large scale, create a widespread gas-fueling infrastructure, or increase automobile shale-gas usage appreciably.

So even though it is a good time to be in the oil field, remember that as completion engineers it is our job/duty to understand what is happening downhole when we are fracturing—Do we really have complexity? Does complexity occur in every shale interval or just the brittle ones? Does proppant “turn the corner” and go into the natural fractures? Knowing the answers to these and other questions can make the economics of shale plays become even better.

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

Karen Olson, SPE, is the Completion Expert for Southwestern Energy. She has worked in the oil industry for 28 years, including positions with the Western Company of North America; Mobil E&P, working in west Texas, the Gulf of Mexico, and Norway; and most recently with BP as a Deepwater Completion Engineering Team Leader. Olson has written and presented many SPE papers and has been a discussion leader at SPE workshops and forums. She has served on several SPE committees and serves on the JPT Editorial Committee. Olson earned a BS degree in petroleum engineering from Louisiana State University and an MS degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University.

While Surfing – A blog by Ahmed Abou-Sayed

If you are here then, like me, you must be curious on what is the P&O community is up to? Well that is the idea of this place (page) and its linked websites. As the Production and Operations Technical Director, it pleases me to welcome you to your window on the production and operation world of activities. The P&O Discipline Page, as we will refer to this website, belongs to you, the P&O members and is administered by the SPE staff. We hope you will make it your gateway to explore and discover what is new in technology, where the upcoming events are and who authored the latest papers on your favorite subjects.

We encourage you to make it an active and viable website so as to spread the knowledge and share the benefits. I hope to be able to update this blog every month and whenever new or important happenings take place. I expect and solicit your input, and look forward to your feedback; please keep your contributions coming.

Finally, please watch this space as work is underway to update and roll the new P&O Technical Section community site with its attempt to provide a more focused technical feed to you, our members, on several main work tracks of the P&O community. We intend to link the technical section seamlessly to your P&O Discipline Page. Happy web-surfing everyone.


Reducing the Hidden Costs of Subsea Well Completions

Stephen Rassenfoss, JPT/JPT Online Staff Writer

Subsea completions have made it possible to produce oil in remote locations and from smaller reservoirs. But the cost of maintaining them may shorten their productive lives.

“Subsea wells have the same things that go wrong as other wells, but fixing them requires moving in a rig and the cost can often be USD 1 million a day,” said Matthew Law, technical manager of sales and marketing at Expro Ax-s Technology. “Where there is direct access from a production platform, there is generally regular well intervention. As a result, the recoverable reserves are higher.”

Major producers such as BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Statoil, and Shell are among those seeking to cut the cost of deepwater workovers by 50% or more to allow better maintenance. There is no accepted industry average for how much production can be gained from regular interventions. The consensus is that the potential impact on the thousands of subsea completions represents billions of dollars worth of hydrocarbons.

Read the entire article in the January 2012 issue of JPT.


Mature Fields and Well Revitalization

Revitalizing mature fields embraces multiple objectives, especially maximizing production while minimizing capital expense and reducing the inevitable decline rate and minimizing the operating expense. The collective approach to meet these objectives is application of practical and focused engineering and geology tied with the application of enabling technologies.

Key enabling technologies in the revitalization of mature fields include reservoir simulation, advanced characterization techniques (e.g., 3D seismic and new measurement, tomographic, and visualization techniques), permanent downhole reservoir monitoring, horizontal and multilateral drilling, geosteering, production-enhancement techniques (e.g., secondary- and tertiary-recovery schemes), improved perforation and stimulation methods, new fracturing techniques and fluids, cutting-edge completion technologies, advanced logging techniques, artificial-lift optimization, and conformance control.

Implementation of appropriate enabling technologies can extend the producing life of mature fields. Yet the complexity of some of these fields can still present formidable challenges. It takes the right data, the right tools and techniques, and the right team to create an efficient, cost-effective field-development plan to optimize an aging asset.

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

Syed A. Ali, SPE, is a research advisor with Schlumberger. Previously he was a Chevron Fellow with Chevron Energy Technology Company. Ali received the 2006 SPE Production and Operations Award. He earned BS, MS, and PhD degrees. He served as the Executive Editor of SPE Production & Operations and currently serves on several SPE committees, including the JPT Editorial Committee and Well Completions Subcommittee.