Heavy oil extraction requires heat introduction to the reservoir to enhance the mobility of oil. While steam injection is one of the most reliable thermal EOR methods for heat introduction, it has several operational, technical, economic, and environmental limitations. This study investigates the effectiveness of a newly developed downhole steam generator which not only minimizes the heat losses due to distance the between generation and injection but accomplishes oil production with lower steam and energy requirements. A test of the downhole steam generator took place in a small 20 acre area northeast Texas with 13 wells accessing a shallow (540 feet TVD) heavy oil bearing sandstone. The viscosity and API gravity of the heavy oil was reported as 3,000 cP at 100 °F and 19 °API. The initial oil and water saturation were approximately 65% and 35% respectively.
Steam injection was started in April of 2013 at steam rates of up to 1300 bbl/day of 600°F steam, producing a total of 540 million BTU per day. The steam front was carefully monitored with temperature readings through oil sampling, both on an individual well basis. According to the temperature readings, steam front movement was faster than typical steam flooding cases in such high viscosity oil reservoirs. Preferential steam propagation occurred towards the northwest of the field due to reservoir dipping towards the southeast. The oil production increased on both the 20 acre test site and wells outside of the test site. The varying distances between injection wells and production wells enabled us to observe steam propagation at varying length. Thus, we could acquire produced oil sampling at varying steam exposure times at different locations and depths. Viscosity, density, and compositional analyses were carried out on the produced oil samples. It has been observed that the viscosity and density of produced oil were not improved due to emulsion formation which is a common concern for any steam injection project. However, further analysis revealed that emulsion breaking is possible with the use of asphaltene insoluble solvents or cationic surfactants. Since the novel design of the downhole steam generator allows injection of any additional chemical with steam during the process, these chemicals could be added to the steam stream to enhance the effective steamed area and reduce the flow assurance related problem. The new downhole steam generation tool provides an opportunity to generate steam in-situ and co-inject steam with additional chemicals to prevent emulsion formation and asphaltene precipitation. Thus, this study proves that downhole steam generation can be feasible for heavy oil extraction, even for small, low-rate fields, if all drawbacks (such as emulsion formation and asphaltene precipitation) are considered and the chemicals injected with steam are selected properly.