SPE Technology Updates

Industry and Society news grouped by SPE technical discipline

From Bacteria to Barrels: Microbiology Having an Impact on Oil Fields

The science behind the use of microbes to enhance oil recovery has advanced significantly, but it suffers from old associations.

After decades of trial and error, those working on microbial enhanced oil recovery have identified the “oil-eating” bacteria that laboratory tests suggest can change the properties in an oil reservoir, and know better how to put them to work. The increasing knowledge of the role microbial life plays in oil and gas reservoirs has also led to new approaches for controlling corrosion, managing bacterially-produced hydrogen sulfide, and creating natural gas from coal.

(In this story, “eat” is used to describe the metabolic processes of bacteria. For instance, oil eating is more precisely hydrocarbon oxidizing.)

But the greatest potential payoff and the most debate come from the idea of microbes for enhanced oil recovery (MEOR). “There is a much greater understanding of what microbiology is doing in a reservoir” and how that can be used to produce more oil, said Stuart Page, chief executive officer of Glori Energy, a company that has staked its future of convincing the industry that microbes can be used to recover more oil.

Read the full article from the November 2011 JPT.

Challenges in Reusing Produced Water

[Read the Challenges in Reusing Produced Water white paper.]

Produced water is an inextricable part of the hydrocarbon recovery processes, yet it is by far the largest volume waste stream associated with hydrocarbon recovery. Water production estimates are in the order of 250 million B/D in 2007, for a water-to-oil ratio around 3:1, and are expected to increase to more than 300 million B/D between 2010 and 2012. Increasingly, stringent environmental regulations require extensive treatment of produced water from oil and gas productions before discharge; hence the treatment and disposal of such volumes costs the industry annually more than USD 40 billion. Consequently, for oil and gas production wells located in water-scarce regions, limited freshwater resources in conjunction with the high treatment cost for produced water discharge makes beneficial reuse of produced water an attractive opportunity.

Technology Focus: Formation Evaluation

(JPT, August 2011)

Reportedly, companies are struggling to find petrophysicists for their subsurface teams, especially companies exploiting unconventional resources that require a major petrophysical effort to unlock their reserves potential. How has this state of affairs come about? Read more in the August 2011 issue of JPT, including three paper summaries in formation evaluation.

In-Situ Molecular Manipulation

[Read the In-Situ Molecular Manipulation white paper.]

Energy sources are vital to sustain and grow the world economy. As of today, the world mainly relies on fossil fuel as the source of energy for transportation, power generation, chemicals manufacturing, and other industrial applications. The conventional sources of hydrocarbon are steadily declining; however, the oil and gas industry has been successful in finding unconventional hydrocarbons, such as heavy oil and shale gas. There are distinct challenges in producing and processing the hydrocarbons from unconventional sources into usable end products. Reducing the footprint during the production of oil, refined products, and gas will benefit the industry by reducing the overall cost and improving the health, safety, and environmental impact.

Another source of energy is renewable sources, such as sun, wind, geothermal, biomass, plant seeds, and algae. Producing usable energy from these sources and making it available to the end user pose unique challenges and opportunities. Research to understand the molecular building blocks of organisms living in diverse sources could help optimize the production of usable energy from both fossil and renewable sources. The search for microorganisms should include diverse sources, ranging from hydrocarbon reservoir to the guts of insects such as termites. Research into the molecular structure of these organisms could pave the way for improving exploration, production, and processing of fossil fuels and also help to produce usable energy from renewable sources efficiently and cost-effectively.

Increasing Hydrocarbon Recovery Factors

[Read the Increasing Hydrocarbon Recovery Factors white paper.]

Conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons are likely to remain the main component of the energy mix needed to meet the growing global energy demand in the next 50 years. The worldwide production of crude oil could drop by nearly 40 million B/D by 2020 from existing projects, and an additional 25 million B/D of oil will need to be produced for the supply to keep pace with consumption. Scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations are needed, not only to secure supply of affordable hydrocarbons, but also to minimize the environmental impact of hydrocarbon recovery and utilization.

The lifecycle of an oilfield is typically characterized by three main stages: production buildup, plateau production, and declining production. Sustaining the required production levels over the duration of the lifecycle requires a good understanding of and the ability to control the recovery mechanisms involved. For primary recovery (i.e., natural depletion of reservoir pressure), the lifecycle is generally short and the recovery factor does not exceed 20% in most cases. For secondary recovery, relying on either natural or artificial water or gas injection, the incremental recovery ranges from 15 to 25%. Globally, the overall recovery factors for combined primary and secondary recovery range between 35 and 45%. Increasing the recovery factor of maturing waterflooding projects by 10 to 30% could contribute significantly to the much-needed energy supply. To accomplish this, operators and service companies need to find ways to maximize recovery while minimizing operational costs and environmental imprint.

This paper provides an overview of the options that oil and gas operators and service companies are considering as they look for solutions to the above needs and plan possible technology development scenarios. Emerging developments in such sciences as physics, chemistry, biotechnology, computing sciences, and nanotechnologies that are deemed capable of changing the hydrocarbon recovery game are highlighted.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration

[Read the Carbon Capture and Sequestration white paper.]

Briefly stated, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) will help us to sustain many of the benefits of using hydrocarbons to generate energy as we move into a carbon-constrained world. Even though the CO2 generated by burning hydrocarbons cannot always be captured easily in some cases (as in oil used for transportation), sequestration of CO2 from other sources (such as coal-fired power stations) can help to create, to some degree, the “headroom” needed for the volumes of CO2 that escape capture. Because of the likely continuing competitive (direct) cost of hydrocarbons and in light of the huge investment in infrastructure already made to deliver them, the combination of fossil fuel use with CCS is likely to be emphasized as a strong complement to strategies involving alternative, nonhydrocarbon sources of energy. Moreover, the exploitation of heavy oil, tar sands, oil shales, and liquids derived from coal for transportation fuel is likely to increase, even though these come with a significantly heavier burden of CO2 than that associated with conventional oil and gas. CCS has the potential to mitigate some of this extra CO2 burden.

If we wish to sustain the use of oil, gas, and coal to meet energy demands in a carbon-constrained world and to provide time to move toward alternative energy sources, then it will be necessary to plan for and implement CCS over the coming decades. Subsequently, we should expect a continued need for CCS beyond the end of the century.