To satisfy the increasing energy needs of the world during the next decades, adding substantial new oil reserves will not be an option, but a necessity. There are different ways to achieve that:
Continuation of exploration. Exploration for new resources will continue to play an important role but will become more difficult and will not be sufficient to meet our needs.
Development of unconventional oil, like oil sands and oil shales. Unconventionals are quite promising, but production will increase slowly.
Improvement of the recovery efficiency of our producing fields. This means producing a fraction of the enormous amount of oil that is currently being left underground.
The current ultimate average recovery factor for oil fields, on a worldwide basis, is about 35%. This means that about two-thirds of the oil that has been discovered is left within the reservoir. We have under our feet, in well known locations, enormous prospects for booking new reserves. Increasing the average ultimate recovery factor from 35% to 45% would bring about 1 trillion bbl oil! The questions are how to achieve that goal, and is it realistic?
How? Technology will be the key, in many domains: advanced wells with more contact with the reservoir, more efficient lifting systems, devices such as downhole or seafloor separation, better reservoir monitoring and management, and, very importantly, tertiary recovery or enhanced oil recovery (EOR).
Is it possible? We know the answer, it’s “yes.” Why? Because this has been done in one place already, Norway. In this country, a continuous policy of incentives for developing and, more importantly, deploying new technology has been in place for the last 30 years. And the overall results are quite impressive. Thanks to many new technologies the average ultimate recovery factor has been increased by more than 10% during this period.
I would like to elaborate a little on EOR, as it will certainly play an important role. EOR was promising 30 years ago, but it never developed as well as many people anticipated. However, it is interesting to note that although EOR production is relatively small today, it is still significant—around 3 million B/D. I recently visited the giant Daqing oil field in China. This field is now very mature, with a water cut of more than 90%, but the oil production rate has maintained constant over years thanks to a progressive deployment of polymer flooding, which is now implemented in about one-third of the field. That is an impressive success story and an example for rejuvenation of mature fields. Also, a number of EOR projects have been launched recently. This includes small-scale pilots, but also a lot of large-scale operations.