Shell's interest in enhanced oil recovery grows

Guntis Moritis
Production Editor

HOUSTON, Sept. 28 -- As easy oil becomes more difficult to find and produce, Royal Dutch Shell PLC sees enhanced oil recovery (EOR) contributing more to the world's growing energy needs.

Primary and secondary production methods leave about two thirds of oil in the ground, said John Barry, vice-president for unconventionals and EOR for Shell, in a recent webcast. EOR methods could produce some of this oil. Barry estimated that the world's existing oil fields might produce more than 500 billion bbl of oil with EOR methods that recover an additional 10% of the original oil in place.

Shell's EOR holdings include a 52% interest in AERA Energy LLC, which operates several steamfloods in California that produce about 100,000 b/d of oil.

Also Shell Canada Ltd. operates thermal oil recovery projects in the Peace River area of Alberta. For many years in Peace River, Shell has investigated many methods for economically producing the highly viscous, 7 billion bbl in place resource; but to date, it has recovered only a small amount of this oil, about 50 million bbl, he said.

To improve the economics for producing more oil from this resource, Shell has started using such technologies as time-lapsed seismic, tilt meters, and microseismic to detect where the injected steam goes. Tilt meters detect changes on the surface of only a few millimeters as steam is injected, while microseismic uses downhole geophones to listen to the events created by the injected steam.

These technologies provide Shell a better understanding of how to efficiently inject steam that will lead to expanding the production form the area, Barry said.

Shell also is involved with Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) in starting a steamflood in the fractured carbonate in Qarn Alam field. Most previous steamfloods have been in sandstones.

Another EOR project in Oman will inject polymer and surfactant to enhance oil recovery in Marmul field. Barry said a pilot in the 1980s showed the effectiveness of polymer injection to increase oil recovery but low oil prices forestalled the project's start-up. Now that the project has been dusted off, PDO plans a 27-well development, he said.

Shell and Statoil ASA also have under study a plan for capturing carbon dioxide from power plants onshore Norway and using it for EOR in Draugen and possibly in Heidrun fields off Norway.

Barry said by 2030, EOR methods may account for about 10-15% of Shell's oil production.

Contact Guntis Moritis at guntism@ogjonline.com.

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