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BP awards Colorado State University $5M to research technology for oil recovery from watered-out wells

18 October 2012

Colorado State University has obtained a 5-year, $5-million grant from BP to study mechanisms involved with technology for oil recovery from “watered-out” wells. The term watered-out refers to a well that has begun producing large amounts of water—often occurring with waterflooding for enhanced oil recovery—thereby making oil production unprofitable.

Upward of 70% of the petroleum can remain in the rock formations of many watered-out wells. Typically, wells are abandoned after they are no longer producing oil or gas at a rate that is economically viable. Understanding the fundamental science could create a new avenue to revitalize these wells while also minimizing environmental impacts of oil recovery.

Understanding processes associated with extracting petroleum resources from rocks in watered-out wells is at the heart of these research efforts. This project is very exciting in part because we are being given the opportunity to study fundamental molecular details that may have a large societal impact. It is very basic research at the simplest chemical level. Assuming it’s successful, it will allow us to help decision-makers in oil fields engineer solutions for more oil recovery.

—Amber Krummel, assistant professor of chemistry and the principal investigator on the grant

Krummel is leading the project with collaborator Chuck Henry, professor of chemistry at Colorado State. The pair will use a combination of laser experiments and nanofabrication approaches to examine the processes that occur in waterflooding an oilfield.

The need to investigate waterflood chemistry at the nanoscale is driven by the fact that the rock formations involved in many of the “exhausted” wells in Colorado and the surrounding states contain shale, limestone and sandstone. The pores in these types of rock range in diameter from tens of nanometers to several micrometers. Understanding the impact of this variation on oil recovery could be very important.

In addition, this research eventually could be applied to a wide variety of uses including aquifer mediation, natural gas recovery or carbon dioxide sequestration where the gas, instead of escaping into the atmosphere, is put back into a geological formation.

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Comments

This is what happens when flooding uses immiscible fluids; you get "fractional flow" where the fluid which comprises the majority of the total does not allow the other to move.

One solution is to flood with miscible fluids, such as liquid or supercritical CO2.  A bonus of miscible flooding is that it can dissolve into oil trapped in pockets and increase its volume, forcing some of it out where it is carried to the production well by the flow.

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