As the era of “easy oil” nears the end in the Middle East, oil producers in the region are tackling more difficult reserves that require technology and innovative approaches to maximize reservoir performance and add value.
Saudi Aramco is among the companies at the forefront of the hunt for technologies. The company recently unveiled plans to invest more than $300 billion in the next 10 years in oil and gas as it looks to counter the effects of investment decline and a potential energy shortage.
“We plan to invest more than $300 billion over the coming decade to reinforce our preeminent position in oil, maintain our spare oil production capacity and pursue a large exploration and production program centering on conventional and unconventional gas resources,” Saudi Aramco’s CEO Amin Nasser said during his keynote speech during the World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul, Turkey.
The plan also aims to make exploration more effective, improving recovery factors, as well as tapping new hydrocarbon resources. That’s why Saudi Aramco envisions becoming an enabler and creator of new technologies instead of its traditional role as buyers and consumers of technology.
Through Saudi Aramco’s R&D arm, the Exploration and Petroleum Engineering Center Advanced Research Center, the company is working on various R&D projects in an effort to increase the recovery factor of major producing reservoirs from the current 50% to 70%.
The company said it is emphasizing high-impact technologies that typically involve long-range strategies. So far, the company’s effort has focused on IOR and EOR, such as CO2 EOR and chemical EOR, with an objective to find surfactants and polymers that will tolerate Saudi Arabian reservoirs’ salinity and temperature. Another area of focus involves smart waterflooding, which addresses the role of ions, at microscopic scale, to increase recovery without major investment.
The company said in its 2016 annual review that its SmartWater flooding research program continued to show potential to improve oil recovery rates from carbonate reservoirs by an additional 4% to 8%. “The results of our in-house research program and single-well field trials have shown that injected seawater, whose ionic composition has been optimized, outperforms traditional seawater injection,” the company said in its annual review published early this month. “In 2016, we completed detailed engineering design for the main surface facilities for a multi-well demonstration project at ‘Uthmaniyah and advanced the design of another demonstration project at Khurais.”
The main motivation behind Saudi Aramco’s smart waterflooding EOR method is to capitalize on the company’s large water-injection facility. Smart waterflooding is the first homegrown recovery technology that could provide substantial additional oil recovery by tuning the ionic composition of seawater treated at Qurayyah facility for injection to producing fields to maintain reservoir pressure. The project aims to change the ionic composition of the injected water in a way that the team can alter the wettability of the rock to more favored conditions. This helps it release some of the trapped water.
With a goal to reduce CO2 emissions while increasing oil recovery, Saudi Aramco is also working on a CO2 EOR projects. “While we don’t need CO2 recovery technologies right now, we are investing in these technologies because they have a number of interesting attributes, including increasing recovery and also creating an opportunity to capture and sequester CO2 for [the] long term in very large volumes,” Saudi Aramco CTO Ahmed Al-Khowaiter said earlier.
The company said that it continued to monitor the performance of its CO2 EOR demonstration project—the largest such project in the Middle East. “Since the initial injection of CO2 in north ‘Uthmaniyah in 2015, the response from the test wells has been positive with oil production rates increasing three to four times,” the company added.
In addition, Saudi Aramco is working on several in-house chemical EOR studies, including better characterizing preselected chemical formulation in different rock types and evaluating potential synergies with SmartWater flooding technology. “We plan to conduct a single-well tracer test in 2017 to demonstrate the effectiveness of the chemical formulations in the field,” Saudi Aramco said.
Other major EOR program includes Saudi Aramco’s nanotechnology EOR program, which is analyzing three types of particles—active, passive and reactive ones.