WPC: Technology unlocking unconventional hydrocarbon resources

New technology is unlocking additional unconventional hydrocarbon resources around the globe, from northern Alberta to Australia and Venezuela�s Orinoco Belt. Speakers at the World Petroleum Congress (WPC) in Calgary Wednesday stressed the role of technology in a variety of large-scale projects.


CALGARY�New technology is unlocking additional unconventional hydrocarbon resources around the globe, from northern Alberta to Australia and Venezuela�s Orinoco Belt. Speakers at the World Petroleum Congress (WPC) in Calgary Wednesday stressed the role of technology in a variety of large-scale projects.

K.C. Williams, a senior vice-president of Imperial Oil Ltd., Toronto, said the company�s Cold Lake bitumen project in Northeast Alberta is now North America�s largest in situ thermal operation. It is producing 130,000 b/d of bitumen from a resource with proven reserves of 900 million bbl.

Williams said Imperial has steadily increased production since 1985, and technology has been the key to success. The company has used dedicated research and development, extensive field piloting, and phased commercial development tied to cyclical oil economics.

Williams says the future of Cold Lake will be a combination of technical and commercial adaptation. Near-term technology development is focused on enhancement of existing thermal operations, including use of power and steam cogeneration. Longer-term initiatives range from nonthermal recovery techniques to field upgrading.

Imperial has pioneered the use of cyclic steam stimulation (CSS) for bitumen recovery of the heavy oil in sands at an average depth of 1,475 ft below the surface. Research is under way to determine where solvents may play a role in areas not suitable for CSS.

The company is also researching ways to standardize all equipment, from the well bore to the product sales meter, and is implementing new measurement and pumping technologies. These efforts are expected to reduce capital costs by at least 15%.

Imperial also plans research to improve drilling and water treatment technologies.

Oilsands
B.A. Lang, vice-president, Suncor Energy Inc., Calgary, outlined the company�s $2 billion (Can.) Millennium Project to more than double production from its oilsands operations in the Fort McMurray region of northern Alberta.

Suncor commissioned its Steepbank surface mine in 1998 and expanded its upgrading facilities. The Millennium expansion in progress now will increase production of light sweet and sour crude products to 220,000 b/d from 105,000 b/d by the end of 2002.

There are 2,500 million bbl of oil on the leases where Suncor has regulatory approval for development.

Lang says Suncor has deployed an array of new and innovative technology to cut costs and improve efficiency at its oilsands operations. These include rotary breakers, hydrotransport for slurry transport of oilsands to deliver ore from mine to extraction plant, inclined plate separators for gravity separation, and consolidated tailings. A vacuum distillation unit was also installed in the upgrading operation to increase production and eliminate cokers as a bottleneck. That technology is now being used by other oilsands operations.

Oil shale
James D. McFarland of Southern Pacific Petroleum NL and Central Pacific Minerals NL, both of Australia, said work is now well underway at the $250 million (Aus.) Stuart Stage 1 shale oil demonstration plant in Queensland. Suncor�a joint venture partner and operator�is currently commissioning a 4,500 b/d pilot plant (OGJ Online, June 5, 2000).

McFarland said the project could be the key to development of an estimated $29 billion (Aus.) shale reserve on the Queensland coast held by the joint venture group. The Stuart pilot project, if successful, could lead to an 85,000 b/d commercial operation by 2007 after an intermediate 15,000 b/d plant.

The pilot plant now being commissioned will test the Alberta Taciuk Processor (ATP) retort technology on shales. The technology was chosen after a $150 million (Aus.) R&D program in the 1980s.

McFarland said successful testing of the technology, initially developed in Alberta for oilsands, could lead to a technology and cost breakthrough in shales, with significant impact on world oil supply.

Extraheavy oil
Jean-Claude Soligny of TotalFinaElf SA, Paris, said technology is playing an important role in the $4 billion (US), 200,000 b/d Sincor extraheavy oil project in Venezuela�s Orinoco Belt. It is designed to produce 180,000 b/d of 32� gravity synthetic crude with less than 0.1% sulfur for 35 years.

An early production scheme will produce 40,000 b/d of heavy oil mixed with 20,000-25,000 b/d of Mesa crude starting in October 2000. An upgrader is planned by the end of 2001, and commercial lifting of crude is slated to start in early 2002.

Soligny said the project is using a cold production scheme that is less costly and more environmentally suitable for the venture than cyclic steam injection. He said 3D seismic and horizontal drilling have been used extensively to make the project feasible.

Continuous 3D seismic reinterpretation will be combined with development drilling data to obtain more precise imaging of reservoirs, says Soligny. Research will be done with dual-lateral or "fishbone" wells to improve drainage of reservoirs and productivity.

The speaker said, over the 35-year life of the project, new technological breakthroughs and advanced steam injection methods are expected to improve recovery factors and economics.

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