October 09, 2014
fracking’s kid brother.
recovery (EOR) doesn’t inspire the hatred of greenie pols and Hollywood
ignoramuses. It attracts little praise or condemnation from pundits. And
it’s responsible for just 12 percent of U.S. production of black gold. But as
long as the global price of petroleum stays high, look for EOR’s importance to
basics. In a 1981 profile of early EOR tinkering, The New York Times explained: “[I]n primary recovery, oil is pushed
to the surface by underground water pressure or by pressures generated by gas
mixed in with the oil. As these natural pressures subside, water is injected
through separate wells to increase the pressure sufficiently to continue
forcing out oil. This is called secondary recovery.”
But as the Times noted, “the great bulk of oil …
stubbornly remains in the ground,” even after completion of the two extraction processes.
EOR, also known as tertiary recovery, lowers the viscosity of the “leftovers”
-- by injecting chemicals, gases, or heat -- in an attempt to get every last
which method is selected, expenditures can add up quickly. According to the
website Rigzone, “producers
do not use EOR on all wells and reservoirs. The economics of the development
equation must make sense. Therefore, each field must be heavily evaluated to
determine which type of EOR will work best on the reservoir. This is done
through … characterization, screening, scoping, and … modeling and simulation.”
the stuff that has Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio so terrified is proving to be
EOR’s best tool. Carbon dioxide is becoming the technique’s dominant
ingredient, displacing steam and nitrogen. In the
analogy of a Texas EOR executive: “If you’ve ever tried to get oil-based
paint off of something with a garden hose, you know it’s hard to get off. CO2
acts like a solvent.”
CO2 debuted in Scurry County,
Texas, in 1972. The approach is
found all over the nation today, from Alaska
to California, the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf Coast.
Information Administration researchers broke down the tricky
financials: “The cost of the CO2 itself can add $20 to $30 per barrel of
oil produced. In addition, the producer must pay for surface facilities to
separate the CO2 from the production stream and compress it back into the oil
reservoir. The producer also incurs a financial cost for the time delay
associated with repressurizing old reservoirs.”
Clinton’s presidency wound down, gasoline sold for under a buck in some sections
of the country. (It hurts to remember, but it’s the truth.) EOR of any kind didn’t
appear to have much of a future. A decade later, when it became clear that pricey
petroleum wasn’t a fleeting phenomenon, investments in tertiary recovery began
to flow. In 2008, the U.S.
produced 644,356 barrels of petroleum per day through EOR. This year, Oil
& Gas Journal estimates that
the yield will be 778,048 -- a 20.7 percent increase. Not quite fracking’s
meteoric rise, but impressive enough.
How much domestic
crude is left for EOR to tap? Lots. Conservative estimates for CO2 use put the
amount at 20 billion barrels. The real-world figure is likely to be far bigger
-- perhaps by a factor of two or three -- given adoption of next-generation
technologies and significant improvements to infrastructure. (Advanced
Resources International’s Vello A.
Kuuskraa and Matthew Wallace believe that “large-scale capture and utilization
of CO2 from industrial facilities, chemical complexes, and electric power
plants will be essential if the CO2-EOR industry is to achieve its full
EOR is creating
jobs, rewarding investors, and doing
its part to restrain the cost of manufacturing petroleum products. Tertiary
recovery is the forgotten contributor to the U.S. hydrocarbon renaissance, and
its accomplishments deserve wider dissemination.
demonstrates the ignorance and fatuity of ecochondriacs. Unmoved by breathless media
accounts of and CGI-infested
blockbusters about “resource depletion,” scientists and engineers indefatigably
pursue ways to meet mankind’s demand for climate-controlled homes, reliable
electricity, and affordable transportation. Better drill bits, satellite-based
surface sensing, deepwater rigs, 3-D mapping of geologic formations, airborne
and underwater drones, efficiency-boosted engines -- progress is continual.
Meanwhile, billions of taxpayers’ dollars are squandered on subsidies to energy
systems hamstrung, perhaps permanently, by their diffuse and intermittent fuels.
analyst for the Energy Policy Research Foundation observed in 2007, “most of
the oil we will discover is from oil we’ve already found.” That, in sum, is EOR
-- another reason why there’s no end in sight for America’s petroleum boom.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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