Unrecoverable reserves are the oil and gas industry equivalent of Tantalus’ fruit tree, plain to see but just out of reach, Douglas Westwood said in its DW Monday report titled “Increasing Oil Recovery”.
According to some estimates, the industry recovers around one third of the oil in the ground. This, combined with rising costs, creates a strong incentive for development of Improved Oil Recovery (IOR) / Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) techniques.
The industry has responded with a suite of new strategies, products and services. Core components include reservoir monitoring, development drilling campaigns, and management of producing wells.
4D seismic allows operators to collect a series of 3D images to monitor the migration of reservoir fluids over time. While early implementations were costly, the level of subsurface detail now achievable when combined with well logging is allowing the design of more effective recovery strategies.
The tools available to drilling teams also continue to evolve in areas such as Extended Reach Drilling (ERD), with at least one service company aiming to enable drilling reach beyond 20km, potentially facilitating economic development of more reserves from existing infrastructure. Meanwhile, the service companies continue to enhance their core offerings such as rotary steerables where constant improvements are being made in guidance and motor technology.
The production well itself is now becoming increasingly “intelligent” with completion designs that allow operators to collect pressure and temperature data in real-time, and isolate unproductive zones. Intervention on wells with integrity issues is another area where service ranges are expanding, especially regarding subsea wells. The development of gas tight metal-to-metal casing patches is one such example of a well integrity solution.
Technologies in the operators’ IOR tool-kit also include low salinity water-flooding, which Shell estimates could increase oil recovery by 5-10% in some Gulf of Mexico fields.
Despite a reputation for conservatism, as with any other sector of the economy, necessity is proving to be the mother of invention in the oil & gas industry.
Douglas Westwood, November 18, 2013