Reservoir

Heavy Oil

One should recall that statistics predict oil will continue to be the main source of energy for the next 2 decades, with heavy oil constituting a great portion of that. That means that, while the oil industry is going through unprecedented and even unpredictable economic downturns, the status of heavy oil is still unquestionable.

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After serving two terms for a total of 6 years, my time writing this column is coming to an end. This issue of JPT marks my last opportunity to share my thoughts, recap my observations, and make note of some final touch-ups to the research conducted over this 6-year period with regard to recent heavy oil practices. Here are some highlights to keep in our minds over the coming years.

Despite all the recent negative and serious changes affecting the whole world and our industry, life goes on and we will increasingly be needing energy. One should recall that statistics predict oil will continue to be the main source of energy for the next 2 decades, with heavy oil constituting a great portion of that. That means that, while the oil industry is going through unprecedented and even unpredictable economic downturns, the status of heavy oil is still unquestionable. However, we have to face the fact that this energy should be tapped in a cheap, clean, and sustainable way. The best aspect of this effort is that heavy oil technologies have been established and tested over a long period of time, unlike other unconventional resources.

Lowered steam consumption, down to zero if possible, has been under consideration to minimize the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) while simultaneously producing heavy oil. This green effort leads us to nonsteam techniques such as the use of water with chemicals (mainly polymer) and noncondensable gases and certain unconventional methods such as solvent injection and electromagnetic heating, the latter being unavoidable especially for extraheavy oil and bitumen. These areas have been critically considered by researchers and practitioners with a considerable number of applications existing at the field scale.

At the same time, the oil industry must deal with mature steam projects in the near future. We have accumulated so much heat energy over the decades, yet a substantial amount of oil remains in these reservoirs. What can be done to reuse this energy? Can we recover different forms of energies using methods with no GHG emission? The current practices encountered in field-scale operations to improve the heavy oil recovery in mature steam applications use noncondensable gases; mainly, these techniques serve to pressurize steam-assisted gravity drainage wells, improve sweep and microscopic displacement by adding chemical additives to the steam (or hot water), and re-engineer well designs (flow control for efficient heating and sweep). My final example highlighting new practices is the increasing trend of offshore heavy oil practices. Of particular interest is polymer injection through vertical and horizontal wells and pilot steam applications, methods that are effective even if they occur at the pilot stage of the process.

This Month’s Technical Papers

Offshore Heavy Oil Polymerflooding Pilot Reveals Alternative Paths

Water-Shutoff Technique Extends Productive Life Cycle of Cretaceous Sandstone

Polymerflood Field Pilot Enhances Recovery of Heavy Oils on the Alaska North Slope

Recommended Additional Reading

SPE 199947 Enhanced Oil Recovery in Post-Cold Heavy Oil Production With Sand Heavy Oil Reservoirs of Alberta and Saskatchewan Part 2: Field Piloting of Cycling Solvent Injection by Gokhan Coskuner, Consultant, et al.

SPE 199925 Scalable Steam Additives for Enhancing In-Situ Bitumen Recovery in SAGD Process by Armin Hassanzadeh, Dow, et al.

SPE 199927 The Myth of Residual Oil Saturation in SAGD—Simulations Against Reality by Subodh Gupta, Cenovus Energy, et al.


Tayfun Babadagli, SPE, is a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, School of Mining and Petroleum Engineering, at the University of Alberta, where he holds an NSERC-Industrial Research Chair in Unconventional Oil Recovery. He previously served on the faculty at Istanbul Technical University, Turkey, and Sultan Qaboos University, Oman. Babadagli’s areas of interest include modeling fluid and heat flow in heterogeneous and fractured reservoirs, reservoir characterization through stochastic and fractal methods, optimization of oil/heavy oil recovery by conventional/unconventional enhanced-oil-recovery methods, and CO2 sequestration. He holds BS and MS degrees from Istanbul Technical University and MS and PhD degrees from the University of Southern California, all in petroleum engineering. Babadagli was an executive editor for SPE Reservoir Evaluation and Engineering (Formation Evaluation) from 2010 to 2013 and an associate editor of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Journal of Energy Resources Technology from 2011 to 2014. He is a member of the JPT Editorial Review Committee. Babadagli received SPE’s A Peer Apart Award in 2013, was named an SPE Distinguished Member in 2013, and was an SPE Distinguished Lecturer in 2013–2014. He is also the recipient of the 2017 SPE International Reservoir Description and Dynamics Award.