With oil prices low and OPEC maintaining output levels to preserve market share and fend off competition, the drive for efficiency and lower costs is more important than ever for the US shale industry. Advancements in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques could be the key to opening up new shale fields as well as older ones that have been abandoned, reviving the flagging industry and possibly igniting a second boom.
One such method is carbon dioxide EOR, a process that involves injecting CO2 into ageing oil fields to sweep residual oil to the surface, which can yield two to three times more gas than using water and in some cases extend the production life by more than 25 years. As the only nation to have discovered naturally occurring CO2 sources, the US has unrivalled access to low-cost, large volumes of the required gas.
Texas-based Denbury Resources is one of the major oil and gas companies currently using CO2 EOR, owning 1,100 miles of pipeline infrastructure for the transport of CO2, the company continues to lower production costs and can recover up to 16 billion barrels of oil from the Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountains.
Plasma Pulse Technology (PPT) is another technique that can enhance production and improve reserve recovery. Instead of injecting high pressure fluid into a well, PPT produces a high energy plasma arc that is designed to stimulate the reservoir and remove debris from the well perforations. Oil can then flow more easily from the reservoir into the well and be pumped to the surface.
PPT requires only a few hours to process and the well can go back into production immediately and can sustain an increased production flow for periods of up to twelve months or more.
While oil prices are low the initial higher costs of EOR may seem too expensive for some, but EOR could reduce production costs in the long-run and, as the technologies improve the U.S. Department of Energy and the Western Governors Association estimate that 63.3 billion barrels of oil could be economically recovered.
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