The heavy oil resources worldwide are estimated at 3396 billion barrels. With depletion of light oil, we have to face the technical and economical challenges of developing heavy oil fields. The recovery of heavy oil reservoirs is often less than 20%, or even below 10%. Even though thermal methods have been successfully applied to many heavy oil fields, thin pay zones are not suitable for thermal recovery.
Based on past experiences, polymer flood is not recommended for oil viscosity over 100 centipoises. In recent years, polymer flood becomes a promising technology for heavy oil recovery thanks to the widespread use of horizontal wells. This paper highlights the research advances in polymer enhanced heavy oil recovery since 1977. Based on laboratory tests, polymer can achieve tertiary recovery of more than 20% for heavy oil. A few field cases in China, Canada, Turkey, Suriname and Oman are reviewed and analysed. Some field pilots have shown positive results.