Enhanced oil recovery leaders in the Middle East

2012 Special Report: Early EOR adoption is now trending for NOCs

Wintershall is field testing a fungus-based thickening agent it has developed, which could significantly improve EOR recovery factors.
Wintershall is field testing a fungus-based thickening agent it has developed, which could significantly improve EOR recovery factors.

The inevitable migration to ultra-mature production means the adoption of enhanced oil recovery techniques is coming into sharper focus than ever before

The Middle East is famed for its abundant oil fields, but after generations of production the ultimate recovery from these fields is coming into sharper focus. The current world average recovery factor from oil fields is widely agreed to be in the 30-35% bracket, up from around only 20% thirty years ago.

This parameter ranges from a 10% average of extra heavy crude oils to a 50% average of the most advanced fields in the North Sea.

This region plays host to a wide array of field reserves by type, and for the most part EOR hasn’t to date been required. However, there are very notable exceptions, and in certain places some of the most advanced and cutting edge deployment of enhanced oil recovery are being undertaken right here.

In Abu Dhabi, tertiary gas injection has been underway for decades at the Total operated Abu Al Bukoosh field to great success, and in Oman all three of the primary methods of enhanced oil recovery are in execution, as well as exciting new solar developments to reduce gas consumption, making the Sultanate a unique EOR bedding ground, certainly for the region, and quite possibly the world.

An enormous gap is opening-up between the amount of oil that will be required in the coming decades and the amount of oil that is currently in production. To put the size of the gap in context, by 2015, the oil industry will have to add new production capacity equal to double the current production of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer of oil. By 2035, eight times Saudi Arabia’s current production will need to be brought online in order to satisfy the world’s demand for more oil.

The number and size of new oil discoveries has been declining for decades, so the prevailing thinking is that more oil must be produced from existing fields. Given global oil demand increases (estimated conservatively at 2% per year), it is thought the industry will have to make up the shortfall created by the fact that production from existing fields is actually shrinking at twice that rate using enhanced recovery techniques.

Bringing that into a local context, and to learn more about the critical developments being made in the region, Oil & Gas Middle East has surveyed the major players delivering extended and improved field value from the tougher reserves.

Local Impact
The challenges in the Middle East which would require, or benefit significantly from EOR deployment stem from either heavy or viscous oilfields, maturing fields and the complex geology in some areas which makes oil in place inaccessible by conventional methods. These hurdles can be overcome in most cases by either steam injection, a polymer injection or gas injection into the reservoir.

“Traditionally, Enhanced Oil Recovery becomes a challenge when the field is considered mature, usually when the reservoir has produced about half of its estimated ultimate reserves through a conventional production mechanism such as water injection,” explains Gonzalo Dieste, petroleum technologies advisor, exploration and production, Middle East division for Total.

Dieste adds that EOR techniques may also be required for reservoirs that could not be produced without EOR, such as heavy oils and tight reservoirs, but in the Middle-East, the situation is highly variable.

“In Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the UAE, many of the oil fields are giants with limited off-take, and they are still in the early stage of production. EOR therefore has generally not been a major issue for asset holders. However, in Abu Dhabi, the (Abu Al Bukhoosh) ABK field operated by Total is an example of a field where EOR techniques by tertiary gas injection were already deployed about 20 years ago.”

On the ABK field, the miscible (hydrocarbon) tertiary gas injection combined with implementation of multi-lateral wells has really boosted the oil recovery on some reservoirs. “We have been delighted with the results at ABK and an oil recovery factor above 50% has already been reached,” says Dieste.

On the Rumaitha onshore field in Abu Dhabi, another of Total’s partnerships, a CO2 injection pilot has already been implemented.

“Abu Dhabi is certainly the next opportunity to further implement the new EOR technology as the local partner (ADNOC) is really aware of the challenge and is willing to launch initiatives in this respect.”

Back in 2009 Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO) initiated an EOR project to test the injection of CO2 into the North-East Bab Field, a complex carbonate reservoir. Masdar, a subsidiary of Mubadala is supplying up to 60 tonnes of CO2 per day which is injected into a series of pilot wells.

ADCO’s main objectives for utilising CO2 EOR are to significantly increase reserves, sustain long term production, and maximise ultimate recovery. The UAE is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and is therefore committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Masdar has earmarked a series of Carbon Capture projects from Abu Dhabi power plants and is building the surface infrastructure required to supply more fields with CO2 for EOR.

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Vinod Shah, managing director Mott MacDonald’s Oman office says interest in EOR has been moving gradually up the local agenda, particularly with a view to extending the productive field life. The firm has extensive experience of working with challenging Omani reservoirs, having been engaged on several of the country’s major EOR projects.

Mott MacDonald has been heavily involved in the execution of EOR projects in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Oman.

“Our expertise extends to designing oil and gas facilities on-plot and off-plot from wellheads to export terminals, such as pipelines, remote manifold stations, gathering stations, central processing fields, export pipelines, as well as the terminals and associated utilities,” outlines Shah.

“EOR started to become an issue in the Middle East in early 2000, when production in maturing oilfields, which have been in operation for 40 years or more, began to decline.

In several geographical areas heavy and highly viscous oil cannot be recovered using traditional recovery methods and remains sub-surface. In recent years, high oil prices and a limited supply of recoverable oil worldwide has led to a growing interest in EOR as a commercially viable and long term solution to extend the life of oilfields by several years,” says Shah.

The issue is particularly pressing for Oman, he adds.

“Output in the country’s maturing oilfields peaked in the 1990s and Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), the Sultanate’s leading oil company, spearheaded the implementation of EOR techniques with its first trials in the late 1980s.

Today, PDO is seen as an EOR pioneer in the Middle East with the implementation of several EOR projects that have been successful in increasing oil output.”

Oman in particular has seen considerable investment in a range of EOR technologies to produce heavy oil and now a host of other countries in the Middle East and India have been encouraged by Oman’s success. Between 2001 and 2007 Oman’s oil production fell by 27%, but by 2009, due mostly to EOR projects, oil production had increased by 17%.

In total four major projects are planned to start by 2012, with at least another two expected soon after. Implementation of EOR technologies have contributed to the reversal of Oman’s production decline.

Occidental, operator of the Mukhaizna field in south-central Oman, implemented a major steam flood project that utilises a modified Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) approach with vertical steam injectors around horizontal producers. Between mid 2005 until early 2010, gross daily production increased by more than 10 times with total production recently exceeding 100,000 bopd for the first time.

“Occidental’s Mukhaizna project was the first operating full-field steam injection project in the Sultanate of Oman. The facility is valued at $800 million, with a field capable of producing 75,000bpd rising to 150,000bpd,” reveals Shah.

Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) is also implementing a number of EOR projects in the Marmul field - in the South of Oman (polymer flood to revitalise a mature field).
“The $175 million Marmul Polymer Flooding Project is the first full-scale polymer project in Oman,” says Shah.

The principle of polymer flooding is to improve the reservoir sweep efficiency by flooding it with a mix of polyacrylamide and water. Adding polymer to the water increases its viscosity, bringing the ratio of mobility much closer to the crude oil thus making a more effective sweep.

“The project, which raised the expected recovery rate from around 10% to between 20-30%, won the Enhanced Hydrocarbon Recovery Project Award at the 2010 Oil & Gas Middle East Awards. Net oil production increase is around 8000 barrels per day,” he adds.

Completing an impressive EOR project triple for Mott MacDonald is the $1.2 billion Qarn Alam Steam Injection Project. This is the world’s first full-field steam injection project based on thermally assisted gas/oil gravity drainage in a fractured carbonate reservoir.

“The steam increases the temperature of the oil trapped underground, reducing its viscosity and dramatically increasing output from horizontal wells. This project won the Engineering Achievement Award at the 2011 Oil & Gas Middle East Awards,” says Shah.

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Often it is the combination of mature fields and difficult reserves which prompt operators to investigate the benefits which could be delivered by enhanced oil recovery techniques. However, most experts agree an earlier adoption and full field EOR management programme would yield more significant results.

“Schlumberger’s approach to EOR is a bit different to the traditional thinking, which considers EOR as something to be done in the late life of a field.

Instead, we believe entire field development and management has to incorporate increasing recovery factors at much earlier times of the field’s life,” enthuses Omer Gurpinar, EOR technical director at Schlumberger.

“Accordingly, while the Middle East is known to be oil rich, we see EOR, or in better words, efforts for increasing recovery factors, as an active challenge today for Middle East reservoirs. Most of the traditional EOR schemes have been utilized in different parts of the world since the mid-60s, and of course, all that experience will be useful for Middle East reservoirs,” he says.

Total’s Dieste agrees that early adoption is a key differentiator in meeting expectations. “EOR projects require much more time than a conventional projects, therefore good planning, knowledge of future projects and early implementation of the actual EOR phase can bring a larger amount of incremental oil production,” he says.

The execution of successful EOR projects puts additional demands on contractors and producers alike says Mott MacDonald’s Shah. “The presence of high percentages of H2S and CO2 which necessitates working with special metallurgy do place unique demands at the engineering stage. These plants need to be operational for 30 years, so corrosion rates need to be well accounted for.”

To ensure a successful project, Shah says the level of cooperation between all the teams involved in project delivery has to be extremely high.

“These projects really are a joint effort between operating companies, design teams, suppliers and construction contractors working in a ring fenced environment and under one roof.

To keep everyone in synch Mott MacDonald has been successfully using Business Information Modeling for many years now. All project partners – different design disciplines, the customer, contractor, specialists and suppliers – use a single, shared 3D model, cultivating collaborative working.

This ensures everyone is focused on achieving best value while minimising structural clashes, allowing for a faster project delivery.”

Shah adds that this approach encourages parties to share suggestions and project concerns at an earlier stage, to help avoid any issues later on and achieve a smooth commissioning process.

Schlumberger has highlighted two specific areas where it says it can bring real value to EOR projects. “In our new EOR focus, we are looking to two specific areas: fast and efficient decision making for an EOR project, and monitoring and control systems for various EOR schemes,” explains Gurpinar.

“One aims at identifying and de-risking an EOR scheme faster with improved reservoir characterization and new EOR Pilot systems. The other is for improving the “EOR/recovery conformance” that, in return, brings improved utilization of EOR agents.

“All Schlumberger business segments have a role in making EOR projects successful from design to field implementation. One of our new enhanced oil recovery pilot systems has been implemented in the Middle East already.”

Gurpinar adds that he is witnessing some exciting experimental techniques and emerging technologies which are yielding encouraging results.

“There are interesting developments on many fronts for increasing recovery factors in all types of oil fields. We are all aware of improvements in low salinity floods and sophisticated new EOR chemicals.

“From our end, we are taking things one step back and spending extra efforts at looking into better understanding of the recovery phenomenon. Our Digital Rock project is providing us some new insights. New reservoir characterization, new modeling, new logging, testing, Pilot and “monitoring and control” systems for specific enhanced oil recovery schemes will all come from better understanding of the recovery phenomenon,” Gurpinar asserts.

With early adoption and better geophysical understanding, Gurpinar says he fully expects future enhanced oil recovery projects to be radically different from the kinds of standard projects whcih have followed tried and tested methods from as far back as the mid-60s.

“Enhanced oil recovery projects of the past have been done using technologies that are not designed with a specific EOR scheme in mind. That starts with the shortcoming of the reservoir characterization all the way to the lack of monitoring and control systems.

“I anticipate a big change coming that will make enhanced oil recovery projects much more successful than in the past,” Gurpinar concludes.

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Oman’s Mukhaizna project with Occidental 16X production
Oxy built the world’s largest mechanical vapour compressor station in Oman’s Mukhaizna Field to support its steam flood operations, an EOR technique that uses non-potable water. Gross daily oil and gas production at the close of 2011 was over 16 times higher than the production when Oxy assumed operation of the Mukhaizna Field in September 2005.

In Kuwait the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) and its Research & Technology Group are focused on developing its extensive heavy oil resources in sandstones at Ratqa, in the north of the country. KOC will soon begin its first pilot steam soak wells, and plans to inject into its first nine spot patterns this year. KOC plans to be producing heavy oil at 50,000 bopd by 2015 and more than 250,000 bopd by 2030.

Syria has considerable resources of heavy oil. Technical information required by Syrian Petroleum Company for companies who want to qualify for its recent onshore bid round includes full details of their experience in a broad range of EOR techniques.

In Bahrain Occidental has partnered with Bapco and Mubadala to form Tatweer, who are currently conducting pilot studies on the heavy oil reservoirs in the Awali field. The reservoirs have low permeability (2mD) unfractured carbonates with large volumes of heavy oil, and a trial of steam injection above the fracture gradient is being considered for 2012.

In Saudi Arabia, Aramco is currently evaluating the use of CO2 injection and plans a series of pilot programs in mature fields like Ghawar in 2012. Although full-scale EOR implementation is still 20 to 30 years away, the feasibility studies form part of Aramco’s carbon management road map, in which they wish to be engaged in developing EOR technology for global carbon management.

However, Aramco believe that careful reservoir management, new drilling technology and state of the art information-gathering can significantly extend conventional production plateau of many of its fields.

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ADCO’s CO2 enhance oil recovery pilot
Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO) initiated an enhanced oil recovery project in 2009 that is testing the injection of carbon dioxide (CO2) into pilot wells in one of its carbonate reservoirs. Praxair Gulf Industrial Gases LLC, an Abu Dhabi-based subsidiary of Praxair Inc, is supplying the required CO2 and injection operations under a contract with Masdar.

The pilot began operations in the fourth quarter of 2009. A continuous supply of 60 tonnes per day (1.2 million standard cubic feet per day) of CO2 is being provided to ADCO and is being injected into one of the pilot wells.

In an interview with Oil & Gas Middle East, ADCO’s general manager, Abdul Munir Al Kindy (pictured) said that carbon sequestration and use in EOR projects could play an ever-increasingly important role in ADCO’s onshore development programmes.

“If we can technically assert the value of CO2 in terms of enhanced oil recovery then we may start a much wider EOR scheme at one of our major fields by 2016,” Al Kindy revealed.

Whilst many firms around the world are dabbling with carbon sequestration and storage, Al Kindy says the work being done at ADCO is helping the company consolidate a leadership role in the region for the development and execution of CO2 related EOR projects which actually increase production today.

“The application of CO2 has proven its worth in fully depleted reservoirs and sandstone formations, but some of the projects we have in our portfolio and in our sights will mean injection during the early stage of a big field’s life. We don’t really know exactly how the field will react because there are a lot of variables including porosity and geology.”

Al Kindy hinted that a wider supply issue may develop fruitful relationships within Abu Dhabi’s own borders, and form part of a carbon masterplan. “Of course, the commercial aspect of establishing a carbon supply partner needs to be examined very closely, but I think we will have a lot of interesting opportunities to work with Masdar.”

Wintershall’s Friendly downhole Fungus
Wintershall is currently developing a new environmentally-friendly technology which it says can significantly improve the recovery rate of deposits. The idea came from nature itself.

The production of crude oil and natural gas is no longer conceivable without modern and highly-specialized technology. And yet the best methods often come from nature itself, as is the case with the largest current research project Wintershall is conducting together with BASF.

“A mushroom is the focus here – for one simple reason: when it consumes oxygen and starch, Schizophyllum commune – as the mushroom is called – generates a biopolymer, a 100% biological thickening agent,” Dr Foppe Visser, director of EOR research, Wintershall told Oil & Gas Middle East at the World Petroleum Congress in Doha.

“The gelatin-like substance thickens the water which is injected into the deposit to enhance production. The water can force more oil out of the deposit because it no longer flows past the valuable raw material so easily. This technique can raise the recovery rate from a reservoir significantly.”

A field test with the product will take place from summer this year in the oil field Bockstedt in northern Germany, which Wintershall has been operating since 1954. Research is being conducted for 2 years there on what effect the biopolymer has on oil production.

Adding the biopolymer increases the viscosity of the water. This way more crude oil finds its way to the surface. “Schizophyllan is a real winner in crude oil production: the product remains effective in high temperatures and heavy salt concentration despite its biodegradability.

And because it is so kind to the environment this natural product can even be used in highly sensitive ecological systems such as the sea,” said Visser.

The recovery rate from reservoirs could be raised to up to 45 percent in future with the help of Schizophyllan, depending on the deposit. This rep-resents a big step forwards. For Germany’s largest crude oil and natural gas producer it is a project with a future: “Schizophyllan offers us a fantastic opportunity.

We can set ourselves apart from the competition as a specialist in a technology we developed, and position our company on the market as an attractive partner, especially for national oil companies,” said Visser.

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Magnetic Idea from ZiLift
ZiLift Limited was established in May 2010 to develop and market next-generation artificial lift technologies for the upstream industry. Its core technology is in the permanent magnet motor space for which it has a large patent portfolio.

This is being applied to downhole pumping products used to increase production from oil and gas wells.

“The use of permanent magnet motors enables considerably smaller products to be produced which can be employed in smaller diameter wells for which no pumping solution currently exists. This is particularly the case for deeper and deviated wells,” says Iain Maclean, CEO of ZiLift.

The company’s products are all ‘through-tubing’ deployable. This method offers a significant breakthough in life-cycle costs since expensive drilling rigs are no longer required in the process, a step Maclean says is the corner stone of ZiLift’s value proposition to the industry.

The technology can be equally applied to new or brown field wells due to being retrofitable. “ZiLift has for a number of years been developing innovative artificial lift methods based on permanent magnet motor and a portfolio of associated patents,” explains Maclean.

Permanent magnet motors offer advantages over conventional induction motors due to their greater power within a given space envelope.” ZiLift has exploited this characteristic by producing products that are smaller than conventional products and having comparable power. These diminutive products allow them to be deployed though-tubing on their power cable.

This installation method is markedly more cost effective to operators than conventional ESP deployment which necessitates a full workover including withdrawal of all the production tubing within the well.”

Even more importantly is the fact that workover rigs are in short supply so a well requiring replacement of its ESP may have to wait many weeks or months before a workover rig can be scheduled.

This ‘delay’ results in significant deferred or “lost” production.

ZiLift is currently developing three products aimed at distinctly different artificial lift / EOR markets. All three products have completed engineering and build and have now entered factory testing prior to field trials during the second half of this year.
“ZiLift’s eZiLift product is to undergo its first field trial in the Middle East. The other two products will be trialed in North America,” says Maclean.

“Interestingly all three of our products will find value within the Middle East. Our light oil ESP, eZiLIft, will serve many lower rate wells and offer a more environmentally friendly solution. It negates the visual impact and unavoidable odour present with systems such as pump-jacks.”

Maclean says the company’s heavyLift, ZiLift’s bottom-drive PCP, will certainly find application in the heavy oil fields within the region, such as those in Oman and Kuwait in particular.

“It was recently reported that there are an estimated 15,000 oil wells in the Middle East. We are confident that once successful field trials have been concluded, the ZiLift portfolio of products will find application in 300-500 wells within the region.

This number will increase as the product ranges are expanded and the effect of volume manufacture enables the capital cost to be reduced,” he concludes.


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