Aera Energy to use solar energy for steam floods in Belridge oil field

Jan. 1, 2018
Aera Energy LLC plans to spend about $250 million to build a solar steam and solar electricity project to assist with enhanced oil recovery at Belridge oil field in Kern County, Calif., San Joaquin Valley.

Aera Energy LLC hired GlassPoint Solar to construct an integrated solar project at Belridge oil field west of Bakersfield, Calif., to use solar steam and solar electricity to extract heavy oil and reduce carbon emissions. This is an artist rendering. Photo from GlassPoint Solar.

Aera Energy LLC plans to spend about $250 million to build a solar steam and solar electricity project to assist with enhanced oil recovery at Belridge oil field in Kern County, Calif., San Joaquin Valley.

Belridge has produced 1.7 billion bbl of heavy crude since it was discovered in 1911. The field's production peaked at 160,000 b/d during 1986 and has since declined to 75,000 b/d. Aera Energy executives expect solar power will maintain Belridge's production for another 20 years.

The field's heavy oil is produced using thermal enhanced oil recovery. Steam injected into the reservoir heats the oil so it can be pumped to the surface. Natural gas currently is burned to create the steam.

Aera Energy of Bakerfield, Calif., wants to reduce both its onsite natural gas use and its carbon emissions from pumping oil.

GlassPoint Solar will build glasshouses, similar to greenhouses, containing solar collectors the energy from which will be focused on a series of water pipes, creating steam. The goal is to make 12 million bbl/year of steam.

Aera expects construction to start in 2019 with steam and electricity available during 2020. The integrated solar project will be the first such project worldwide to use solar steam and solar electricity for oil production, and will deliver the largest energy output of any solar plant in California, according to Aera.

Belridge is a mature field requiring continuous steam injection into the reservoir to produce oil. Steam floods are common around Bakersfield where oil production can have water cut of more than 95%. Operators skim off the oil and reinject the water. Heavy oil accounts for about half of California's crude oil production.

The solar-generated steam and electricity will reduce Aera Energy's use of natural gas. Executives estimate the Belridge Solar project will eliminate 375,000 tons/year of carbon emissions, offsetting the use of about 4.9 bcf of natural gas.

Aera Energy expects to receive cap-and-trade credits along with other state and federal incentives.

The project will have two parts, an 850-Mw thermal plant to produce the steam for oil extraction and a 26.5-Mw photovoltaic plant to generate electricity.

"By harnessing the power of the sun to produce oil, oil operators can efficiently reduce emissions using advanced technology, creating long-term benefits for the local economy and environment," said Sanjeev Kumar, GlassPoint senior vice-president for the Americas.

GlassPoint EOR pilot

In February 2011, GlassPoint unveiled its first commercial solar EOR project at Berry Petroleum's 21Z lease in Kern County. The system produced 1 million btu/hr of solar heat, reducing the oil field's gas consumption.

GlassPoint built the pilot plant in 6 weeks, integrating it with Berry Petroleum's existing surface facilities. The solar thermal plant generated steam and preheated water to 190° F., which was used as feedwater for the field's gas-fired steam generators.

The pilot operated for more than 5 years, demonstrating the efficiency and reliability of GlassPoint's solar steam technology for EOR.

PDO building Miraah

Petroleum Development Oman hired GlassPoint for PDO's Miraah steam-heavy oil project, currently under construction. The project was announced in July 2015 with steam production starting from the first unit in November 2017. Miraah means mirror in Arabic.

Miraah is expected to produce more than 1 Gw of peak thermal energy, making it one of the world's largest solar plants. Site preparation and grading for the project at Amal West oil field in southern Oman began in late 2015.

Raoul Restucci, PDO managing director, has said Miraah will reduce reliance on gas to make steam at Amal, saving 5.6 trillion btu/year of gas. Restucci said other industries can use the saved gas instead, supporting Oman's diversification and economic growth.

GlassPoint built a solar pilot at Amal in 2012. Miraah will be 100 times larger than the pilot. The full-scale project calls for 36 glasshouses, built in succession and commissioned in modules of four. The project will span 3 sq km.

Miraah is expected to generate an average 6,000 ton/d of solar steam. PDO's long-term strategy includes the use of solar energy for oil recovery.