Technology Focus: Heavy Oil (March 2009)
- Tony Kovscek (Stanford U.)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- March 2009
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 76 - 76
- 2009. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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In January 2008, the price of benchmark 13°API Midway Sunset crude was approximately USD 85/bbl, whereas in January 2009, it was approximately USD 30/bbl. As the price of oil increased during the past few years, many people commented on how the high price was good for studying and, eventually, recovering unconventional resources such as heavy oil. With the current lower-price environment, I have heard the opposite. Additionally, many individuals declared themselves to be experts in areas of unconventional-resource recovery when prices were high, and there seems to be less enthusiasm for this field now.
This perceived reversal of fortune reminds me of a short story that my children enjoy reading. In the book Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth, a family of three children is told Zen-inspired short stories to help them understand and cope with everyday events. In one short story, a farmer, who coincidently is a rabbit, experiences a series of fortunate and unfortunate events. His friends and relations offer congratulations and sympathy on his good or bad luck, as appropriate. To comments such as “Such good (or bad) luck,” the farmer always replies “maybe” and carries on with his work. Although oversimplified here, the story teaches that good and bad luck happen together, and in life you need to cope with both because you never know what will happen next.
If this story were retold for the oil industry, industry observers and commentators might play the role of friends and relations. The wise farmer is the petroleum engineer(s) who knows that the promise of heavy oil and other unconventional resources has a spectrum of recovery techniques under development, and who works toward economical recovery. He/she resists price exuberance and prepares for inevitable changes in fortune. The price of oil represents luck that can never quite be predicted. Unconventional resources are as important a component in meeting future energy demand this year as they were last year.
In this month’s synopses and reading list, you will find articles that span many aspects related to heavy hydrocarbons. Downhole electrical heaters remains an exciting area for providing precise, targeted heating. Microwaves also provide the ability to heat the formation selectively and, possibly, induce in-situ upgrading. Likewise, in-situ combustion is more difficult to engineer compared to steam injection, but it is more widely applicable, is potentially more energy efficient, and provides mild upgrading of heavy hydrocarbons. Here, we see its application in fractured systems. Other articles could be classified as minimization of carbon footprint through capture and reinjection of carbon dioxide and as implementation of cold-recovery methods.
Heavy Oil additional reading available at the SPE eLibrary: www.spe.org
IPTC 12536 • “Microwave-Assisted Gravity Drainage of Heavy Oils” by Berna Hascakir, Middle East Technical University, et al.
SPE 117327 • “Increasing Oil Recovery from Heavy-Oil Waterfloods” by Bradley W. Brice, SPE, BP, et al.
SPE 118226 • “Experimental and Numerical Comparison of Flooding Schemes To Enhance Recovery of Light-/Medium-Heavy Oil in an Offshore Oil Field” by Bin Yang, China University of Petroleum, et al.SPE 115201 • “Achieving Long-Term Zonal Isolation in Heavy-Oil Steam-Injection Wells: A Case History” by David Kulakofsky, Halliburton, et al.
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