SPE Tech Director: Three Trends To Shape the Future of the Reservoir Discipline

Rodolfo Camacho-Velázquez identifies areas of opportunity for future reservoir engineers related to the technical challenges of increased production and recovery of complex conventional and unconventional reservoirs, the application of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies in reservoir subdisciplines, and the energy transition.

Government of Alberta, Canada, Department of Energy

Three trends that will shape the future of petroleum engineers, specifically the reservoir discipline, are:

  • The increase in demand of hydrocarbons for the next 30 years
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution
  • The energy transition

To meet the growing demand for hydrocarbons, all reservoir subdisciplines (characterization, engineering, and management) must focus on increasing production and recovery from both conventional and unconventional reservoirs.

With about two-thirds of the original oil in mature conventional oil reservoirs remaining after primary and secondary recovery efforts and with less than 10% of primary recovery from unconventional oil fields, there is still room for improvement in the effectiveness of oil recovery processes.

We need to use advances in geomechanics, geochemistry, characterization methods, and fluid flow in porous media to better understand the heterogeneities present in the reservoir and to predict reservoir behavior throughout its productive life, including primary, secondary, and enhanced recovery stages.

To achieve this goal, we must increase, and improve, the existing channels of communication between completion and production engineers, as well as geoscience specialists. Integration of these specialists is possible using unified simulators, which are now accessible in-house and commercially available .

These simulators enable better data management, data consistency by multiple users, improved production forecasting, evaluation of total production cost and different production scenarios, and asset optimization. In short, better field management decisions can be made after identifying key uncertainties throughout the system.

Issues such as using a suitable reservoir model will still be present, especially when working with complex conventional and unconventional reservoirs. Therefore, we need to address at some point the validity of the model assumptions.

These assumptions include data integration at different scales, connecting dynamic and static reservoir models, coupling processes at various time/length scales, sub-diffusive processes, upscaling methods, and acquiring greater relevance and demanding a deeper compression of the fluid flow in porous media at different scales to have a more suitable model of both conventional and unconventional reservoirs.

One of the key technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the use of nanotechnology for better reservoir characterization and more successful enhanced recovery processes due to the physicochemical properties of the nanoparticles. Thus, nanotechnology will play a key role in improving the production and recovery of hydrocarbons. Of course, for this to become a reality, it is necessary to address several of the challenges mentioned earlier about understanding the upscaling of different processes.

The use of data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning across all reservoir sub-disciplines is also expected to change the way reservoir engineers will work in the future. These combined areas have the goal of increasing production and recovery and reducing the degree of uncertainty, cost, and time spent on reservoir tasks (SPE 206269).

The oil industry is entering a time of great change due to the energy transition, which is leading to the capture and storage of CO2 (and its use for EOR), the mitigation of other greenhouse-gas emissions, and the storage of hydrogen.

Geological, reservoir characterization, and engineering studies will be essential to identify storage sites that have adequate capacity, containment, and injectivity. Geoscience and reservoir engineers will play a key role in these studies.

To reduce uncertainties related to safe storage and proper injectability, research topics can be undertaken to understand how CO2 behaves in different underground environments.

More R&D and careful studies integrating geological, reservoir characterization, reservoir engineering, and geomechanics are required to identify reliable underground storage solutions for CO2, other greenhouse gases, and appropriate injection conditions.

In addition, the potential use of engineered geothermal energy is also part of the energy transition, which will again involve the contribution and interaction of geoscience specialists, including those in geomechanics and geophysical methods and reservoir subdisciplines to work toward this energy alternative becoming a reality. The use of geothermal energy will require that aspects of rocks and fluid properties, well test analysis, fluid flow in porous media, and analytical and numerical modeling of non-isothermal environments be addressed.

The transition from hydrocarbons, including carbon capture, storage, and use to geothermal energy and hydrogen will have a major impact on all reservoir subdisciplines, including reservoir management.

These technical challenges related to increased production and recovery of complex conventional and unconventional reservoirs, the application of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies in different reservoir subdisciplines, and the energy transition represent areas of opportunity for future reservoir engineers.

To continue adapting and evolving to meet the industry’s needs, the reservoir discipline must promote disruptive and forward-thinking conversations around all of the reservoir subdisciplines. We need to create a bridge between current knowledge and technical challenges that lie ahead for the petroleum engineers of the future.


SPE 206269 It's Not the End of Petroleum Engineering by D. Nathan Meehan, CMG Petroleum Consulting.