Two of the most pressing problems in the Saskatchewan oilpatch today relate to the production and use of water during extraction processes, and the sharp tailing off of production from oil wells – particularly in the heavy oil areas in the west of the province, and the Bakken formation in the southeast.
The Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC) has been a world-leader in developing enhanced oil recovery technologies that help improve oil production while also lessening environmental impacts. As such, both of these challenges to the Saskatchewan oil industry – water production/use and sharp declines in oil recovery – are tailor-made for new field trail projects announced by the PTRC in early 2012.
The Western Economic Partnership Agreement (WEPA) has contributed over $800,000 to develop new field-testing technologies through the PTRC and its corporate and research partners. In a two-part program, researchers at the University of Regina will help develop new water filtration methods and ceramic membranes in the lab with the intention of scaling up those technologies for use in field testing.
In the second part of the program, the PTRC is working with several medium-sized companies to actually build and refurbish water processing and separator units for the field, in order to capture samples, separate the produced fluids in a field setting, and optimize the removal of oil from produced water in real time. Such in-situ technologies could be scaled up but still remain transportable, offering small- and medium-sized producers the opportunity to eliminate one of the most costly sides of their operations – namely disposing of produced water. If the PTRC’s field testing goes well, it may be possible to use produced water from oil reservoirs for other industrial and agricultural uses rather than be concerned about their safe disposal.
The PTRC is also working with a Dutch research not-for-profit company – INCAS3 – to test their micro-sensor technologies in heavy oil reservoirs. One of the biggest problems with oil production in the heavy oil zones of Saskatchewan is that initial production from these reservoirs – called cold heavy oil production with sand (CHOPS) – leads to a rapid decline of production in a short period of time. It is suspected that this occurs because the amount of produced sand with the oil leads to channels, or “wormholes”, in the reservoirs that cause the production rates to drop.
The micro-sensors produced by INCAS3 could be fine-tuned to help map these wormholes, thus leading to more focused drilling, waterflooding and other enhanced oil-recovery methods. If the sensors prove their worth in heavy oil locations, they might be tried in other sharply falling production zones like the Bakken.
“Linking the PTRC’s research with INCAS3’s proven technologies should provide exciting new windows for enhanced oil recovery in Saskatchewan,” notes Dr. Malcolm Wilson, the CEO of the PTRC. “We’re sure that our research will help significantly increase recovery from resources not just in Saskatchewan, but globally wherever similar reservoirs exist.”
As the PTRC enters its fifteenth year of research in 2013, it is poised to help develop Saskatchewan’s, Canada’s and the world’s hydrocarbon resources with more environmentally sound and economical methods. The company continues to push the boundaries of enhanced oil recovery.
For more information on the PTRC’s EOR research, visit www.ptrc-steps.com.