The Case for Offshore Steam

When we talk to folk in the industry, about our plans to steam the Pilot, Elke & Narwhal fields in the middle of the Central North Sea, sometimes we get a pretty sceptical reaction, sometimes we don’t. I prefer it when we get to talk positively about the potential of steaming offshore reservoirs, but not everyone has an open mind. You see, that’s not how the industry develops heavy oil in the North Sea. How to develop North Sea heavy oil was all worked out in the early nineties by the people who put together the development plans for Alba, Captain, Harding & Gryphon, the last wave of heavy oil developments in the UKCS.

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Who's who in steam

When we have been talking with potential investors and partners about steaming the Pilot oil field, we have often been asked who else steams oilfields? Most people knew about the Canadian oil sands and the steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) schemes which are coming on stream at pace over in Canada. But many fewer were aware of the steam flood projects which have been very successful in California, Venezuela, Indonesia and right here in Europe.

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Deep Steam

I wrote earlier about why 3,000' is the conventional limit for steam floods and this is a follow up note exploring some ways that we could increase that limit. It has some significance. For the UK sector of the North Sea at least, we have estimated that, if you could push the limit down to 4,500', the incremental recovery possible could be more than 2 billion barrels of oil. Almost as much oil as in Johan Sverdrup, if that isn't worth thinking about what is?

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Steam and Solvent – Better Together

Steam injection has a pretty remarkable ability to drive out almost all of the heavy oil from highly permeable reservoirs but it is costly to generate and there is a lot to be gained if you could improve the overall efficiency of the process. The inventor of the SAGD process, Roger Butler, also invented another process which uses solvents instead of steam to mobilise the heavy oil. That process is called VAPEX and involves the injection of a hydrocarbon solvent, such as propane, butane or naphtha

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The Best Time for EOR is Before You Produce a Drop of Oil

The sad truth of working in oil companies is that being assigned to work on enhanced oil recovery ("EOR") projects is sometimes considered career death. All the glamour jobs are on the big discoveries, putting in place billions of dollars of plant and equipment and bringing on hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of production. EOR is thought about as fields decline and managers are looking for some way to stave off decommissioning or being assigned to the "Acquisitions and Disposals" basket.

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Why Reservoir Depth Matters for Steam Flooding

When you are checking out the screening criteria for a successful steam flood, the depth limitation might seem a little surprising. You expect to see the oil saturation and reservoir quality limits and intuitively we all know steam flooding is for heavy oils; but why does depth feature and how many reservoirs are shallower than 3,000' anyway? 

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Steam Flooding & Recovery Factors

To petroleum engineers' ears, attuned to the recovery factor that one can expect from a water flood (typically 30% to 40%, and only occasionally over 60%) the recovery factors that steam flooding can deliver, somewhere between 50% and 80%, seem inordinately high. A pinch of salt seems the appropriate accompaniment to the kind of claims that are routinely made for steam flood projects. But Chevron is one of the acknowledged leaders in the application of steam flooding, and their assessment is that a typical steam flood should recover between 50% and 80% of the original oil in place.

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