Bellamy Field Tests: Oil From Tar by Counterflow Underground Burning
- J.C. Trantham (Phillips Petroleum Co.)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- January 1966
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 109 - 115
- 1966. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 2 Well Completion, 5.8.5 Oil Sand, Oil Shale, Bitumen, 5.2.1 Phase Behavior and PVT Measurements, 4.1.2 Separation and Treating, 3 Production and Well Operations, 4.1.5 Processing Equipment, 5.4.2 Gas Injection Methods, 4.2.3 Materials and Corrosion, 4.3.4 Scale, 5.7.2 Recovery Factors, 5.4 Enhanced Recovery, 4.2 Pipelines, Flowlines and Risers, 4.1.6 Compressors, Engines and Turbines, 2.4.3 Sand/Solids Control, 1.6.9 Coring, Fishing
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From 1955 to 1958 the Phillips Petroleum Co. conducted a series of small scale counterflow combustion field tests in a tar sand about 60-ft deep and 6 to 12-ft thick near Bellamy, Mo. A total of seven different well patterns, including conventional five-spots and seven spots plus a 15-well line drive pattern and a 10-well radial pattern, were employed. Electric heaters, gas burners and wellbore fuel packs were tested as counterflow ignition devices. Direct drive ignition followed by reversal to counterflow operation was not possible in this case because of formation plugging by the semi-solid tar during the direct drive phase. Sustained counterflow burning was achieved with wellbore fuel packs under controlled conditions which permitted close correlation of fire front velocity, air velocity, air-oil ratios and yields for a wide variation in process parameters. The tar in place was about 100 API with a reservoir viscosity greater than 500,000 cp. The composite oil product was 260 API with a viscosity in the range of 5 to 15 cp. Vertical sweep efficiency in the line drive pattern was essentially 100 per cent, with no evidence of gravity segregation. Original tar in place ranged between 800 and 1,000 bbl/acre-ft, specific rock permeability averaged about 800 md before burning and elective air permeability with residual oil and water in place (at the time of ignition) averaged 250 md. The volume of oil recovered during stabilized line drive counterflow burning represented about 67 per cent of the volume of tar originally in place in the burned out zones. A minimum was found when air-oil ratios were plotted against formation air velocities, and a limiting air velocity existed below which the counterflow fire front reversed and burned back over its own trajectory, using the residual coke left behind.
Early in 1955 the Phillips Petroleum Co. began preparations to field test counterflow underground combustion as a method for producing oil from high viscosity hydrocarbon deposits, such as bituminous (tar) sands. At that time all published information on the use of underground burning to increase oil recovery was based on the direct drive process, in which the fire front moved through the formation in the same direction as the injected air stream. Such direct burning is not applicable to many heavy oil sands or to most tar sands because the heat-thinned native hydrocarbon congeals in the cold rock ahead of the fire front forming a gas permeability block which smothers the combustion. Laboratory experiments first demonstrated that this permeability blocking would not occur if the fire front and the air stream moved in opposite directions. In this counterflow (reverse) burning process the heated heavy oil or tar is driven back through the combustion zone. Here thermal cracking produces relatively light hydrocarbon products which pass through the heated rock behind the fire front (largely in the vapor phase) and are incapable of causing a gas permeability block. Exploratory coring revealed that consolidated bituminous sandstones with a combination of tar saturation, permeability, thickness and depth favorable for experimental field testing existed at several points in western Missouri. By the fall of 1955, a test site for determining technical feasibility of the counterflow process under field conditions had been selected near Bellamy, Vernon County, Mo. about fifty miles north of Joplin. The pay zone was too thin and too shallow to constitute a commercial prospect, but these same factors permitted controlled experimental operation with a small compressor installation and with a large number of monitor wells. These were needed for adequate observation of the underground phenomena at reasonable cost.
The reservoir chosen for the experimental field tests was a 12-ft thick section of tar sand extending from 49 to 61 ft subsurface, with shale and siltstone laminations sealing the top and bottom. This section was part of a larger 30-ft thick tar sand deposit which extended both above and below the test zone. Core analyses showed that the 12-ft sand was effectively subdivided into two approximately equal sections, with the lower zone being consistently more permeable than the upper zone. The most significant laboratory core data are summarized in Table 1. The line drive test which is the principal subject of this report utilized only the lower 6-ft thick zone, with the upper zone regarded as part of the 55-ft overburden.
The over-all field test program involved a total of seven different well patterns, including conventional five-spots and seven-spots plus a 15-well line drive pattern and a 10-well radial pattern.
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