Heavy Oil

With the decline in oil price and typical product differentials, the current year will be particularly challenging for heavy-oil operations.

This past year witnessed significant activity and growth related to heavy-oilfield developments worldwide, and this was accompanied by a record number of SPE paper submissions on related topics. This feature article highlights several technical focus areas identified in this new literature set.

On the basis of field experience, operators have recognized the importance of developing and implementing technologies that improve inflow conformance to facilitate uniform steam-chamber development along steam-assisted-gravity-drainage (SAGD) production wells. Several papers describe the development, testing, and field piloting of completions that incorporate various types of inflow-control devices (ICDs). While most of these consider passive or autonomous control devices, one paper describes the installation and early performance of an intelligent-well-completion system with full surface activation and control of the ICDs in an SAGD well. Technical challenges associated with sand control, erosion, scaling, and plugging also must be addressed as these various systems evolve and their use continues to grow.

Significant attention was also given to solvent-based recovery methods with more than three dozen papers on various aspects of modeling, experimental evaluation, and field piloting of different solvent recovery schemes. This work contributes to the understanding of the complex chemical and physical processes involved in applying such recovery methods in different reservoirs and thus will assist operators in the effective screening, design, and commercial implementation of these techniques. As an example, another paper offers insights to the simulation community on methodological aspects of modeling hybrid steam/solvent processes.

The exploitation of offshore heavy-oil reservoirs continued to be a focus for operators in many regions. The literature describes comprehensive appraisal and development planning programs as well as various studies and field pilots undertaken to screen/evaluate alternative primary- and enhanced-recovery methods (including polymer floods and various thermal processes) for these applications. One paper outlines the strategies pursued to address the challenges involved in developing a high-viscosity heavy-oil reservoir in the North Sea.

Additional focus areas include advanced simulation techniques, new polymer developments and field applications, reservoir characterization and recovery surveillance, recovery strategies for fractured carbonate reservoirs, thermal-well design and integrity, caprock integrity, rock- and fluid-property determination, artificial-lift performance and reliability, and in-situ-combustion and electrical-heating recovery methods. The additional-reading papers and many others on these topics can be found in the OnePetro library.

With the decline in oil price and typical product differentials, the current year will be particularly challenging for heavy-oil operations. However, as in the past, these conditions also create opportunities for technology development and deployment to improve operational performance and efficiency, and this should remain a priority for the industry.

Additional Reading

SPE 172850 Polymer Flooding for Extraheavy Oil: New Insights on the Key Polymer Transport Properties in Porous Media by F. Rodriguez, Paris Diderot University, et al.

SPE 169678 Maximizing Steam-Project Value in South Oman Through Flexible Development Phasing and Integrated Reservoir Surveillance by S.M. Al-Hinai, Petroleum Development Oman, et al.

SPE 172889 Maximizing the Profitability of Extraheavy-Oil Wells With Cyclic Steam Injection in the Samaria Neogeno Field by Using Injection Profiles Logged Under Extreme Temperatures by Ezequiel A. Isidro Torres, Pemex, et al.

SPE 170109 A Case Study in the Application of Bitumen Geochemistry for Reservoir Characterization in SAGD Development by J.N. Sereda, Suncor Energy, et al.

SPE 169513 Case Study: Steam-Injection Step-Rate Tests Run in the Shallow Low-Permeability Diatomite Formation, Orcutt Oil Field, Careaga Lease, Santa Barbara County, California by Ramon Elias, Santa Maria Energy, et al.

Cam Matthews, SPE, is a C-FER Technologies fellow. He is responsible for organizing research-and-development programs related to drilling and completions and production operations. Matthews holds BS and MS degrees in civil engineering from the University of Manitoba and the University of Alberta, respectively. He received an SPE Regional Service Award in 2004. Matthews currently serves on the SPE Canada Board of Directors, is a director for the SPE Research and Development Technical Section, is an SPE Canadian Trust Fund Board Member, and sits on the JPT Editorial Committee.