Decisions due in 2013 on Wafra steamflood

Investment and technical decisions are due next year for what would be the world’s largest steamflood—in old Wafra heavy oil field in the Divided Zone between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The decisions are expected to be made about July 2013 on whether to proceed with the project and what technology to employ, according to Hashim Al-Rifaal, chairman of Kuwait Gulf Oil Co., which manages Kuwaiti interests in Divided Zone production shared by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Wafra has produced crude heavier than 22º gravity since the 1950s. Primary production has achieved a recovery factor of about 10%.

KGOC and Chevron Corp., which manages Saudi Divided Zone interests, conducted a cyclic-steam test in 1990, a 5-spot thermal-recovery pilot in 2005, and a 49-well pilot in 2009, Rifaal told the EOR & Heavy Oil Conference in Abu Dhabi.

A project complication is high salt content of the crude, he said.

In Colombia, heavy oil figures prominently in plans to raise oil production to 1 million b/d by 2015 and 1.3 million b/d by 2020 from 914,000 b/d in 2011, according to another speaker.

Adriano Lobo Alvarez, oil field manager of Ecopetrol, said heavy oil now accounts for about 40% of Colombian production. The state-controlled company produced about 720,000 b/d last year.

The heavy oil share will increase as total production grows, Lobo said, naming Chichimene, Rubiales, and Castilla as the main fields producing low-gravity oil.

Ecopetrol plans capital investments totaling $80 billion in 2012-20, he said. Of that, 87% will be for upstream projects as the company tries to boost oil and gas reserves by 6.2 billion boe. The total spending includes upgrades to help Colombian refineries process heavy crudes.

Arnaud Breuillac, president, Middle East, of Total, estimated recoverable heavy oil at 450 billion bbl worldwide, including 170 billion bbl in Canada. He called heavy oil potential in the Middle East “under-evaluated.”

He said Total estimates the 2010 breakeven price with internal rate of return exceeding 10% at $60-80/bbl, calling the upper figure the “floor for heavy oil.”

Another oil company executive on the conference program said a hydrocracking unit under construction at Eni’s 200,000 b/d Sannazzaro refinery at Pavia in northwestern Italy will be able to produce 107 bbl of light products from 100 bbl of extra-heavy crude oil.

Earlier reports said feed would be heavy vacuum resid, but Nicoletta Panariti, executive vice-president for research, development, and projects at Eni, emphasized the 23,000-b/d unit’s ability to handle heavy crude (OGJ, May 23, 2011, Newsletter).

She said keys to the proprietary process, Eni Slurry Technology, are a “nanodispersed (slurry) nonaging catalyst,” and a “homogeneous and isothermal slurry bubble column reactor.” The catalyst is generated in situ from oil-soluble precursors, she said.

The plant will yield diesel with sulfur content below 10 ppm and other light products.

Contact Bob Tippee at bobt@ogjonline.com.

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