Reservoir development is increasingly moving towards the heavy oil resources due to the rapid decline in conventional oil reserves. With the production of conventional low gravity crude oil being surpassed by heavy oil production in Alberta, the vast fields of heavy oil have been considered an emerging source of energy to the growing demands for oil and gas. Although the applications of thermal methods have been successful in many enhanced oil recovery (EOR) projects, they are usually uneconomic or impractical in deep and thin pay zones reservoirs. Therefore, polymer flooding is a preferred EOR technique in such reservoirs.
An application of polymer flooding in heavy oil reservoirs dates back to more than half a century ago. However, it has long been considered a suitable method for reservoirs with viscosities up to 100 centipoises only. Recently, this EOR technique has attracted great attentions and become a promising method for oil recovery from heavy oil reservoirs with viscosities ranging from several hundreds to several thousands of centipoises. The main reasons for such a widespread application of the technique in heavy oil reservoirs during the last two decades have been rises in oil prices, extensive use of horizontal wells and advances in the polymer manufacturing technology. This paper aims to review the advances and technological trends of polymer flooding in heavy oil reservoirs since the 1960s. Upon the review, complete data sets of the laboratory works, pilot tests and field applications are established. The database provides qualitative description and quantitative statistics regarding both scientific research and practical applications. Then suitable ranges of some crucial affecting reservoir properties and polymer characteristics for successful field applications are examined. Finally, new screening criteria are developed specifically for heavy oil reservoirs based on an analysis of the data. The criteria are compared with the previously established ones. The outcome of this paper can be used as guidelines for screening, planning, design and eventually implementation of future projects.