It has long been recognized that the application of heat to reservoirs containing high API gravity oils can substantially improve recovery. Although steam injection is currently the principal thermal recovery method, heat transmission losses associated with delivery of the steam from the surface generators to the oil-bearing formation has limited conventional steam injection to shallow reservoirs.

The objective of the Department of Energy's Project DEEP STEAM is to develop the technology required to economically produce heavy oil from deep reservoirs. The tasks included in this effort are the development and evaluation of thermally efficient delivery systems and downhole steam generation systems. This paper compares the technical and economic performance of conventional surface steam drives, which are strongly influenced by heat losses, with (a) thermally efficient delivery (through insulated strings) of surface generated steam, (b) low pressure combustion downhole steam generation, (c) high pressure combustion downhole steam generation using air as the oxygen source, and (d) high pressure combustion downhole steam generation substituting pure oxygen for air.

The selection of a preferred technology based upon either total efficiency or cost is found to be strongly influenced by reservoir depth, steam mass flow rate, and sandface steam equality. Therefore, a parametric analysis has been performed which examines varying depths, injection rates and steam qualities. Results indicate that the technologies are not readily distinguishable for low injectivity reservoirs in which conventional steam drives are feasible. However, high injection rates produce a notable cost difference between high pressure combustion systems and the other technologies. Issues that must be addressed before gaining further insight into the economic viability of downhole steam generation are discussed.

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