New projects to study ways to recover vast quantities of 'left behind' oil
Tulsa, OK - Nearly two out of every three barrels of oil discovered in
the United States remain trapped underground after conventional
recovery operations. This staggering amount of remaining oil -
approximately 200 billion barrels - can be one of America's best hopes
for greater energy security if new technologies can be developed to
Often, however, the "left behind" oil is in regions of the reservoir that
are difficult to access and the oil is held tightly in place within tiny rock
pores by capillary pressures that resist many traditional oil production
Now, as part of its program to develop ways to free this unrecovered
oil, the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy research program is
adding three new projects to be carried out by three of the Nation's top
petroleum engineering universities:
Louisiana State University, Baton Rogue,
LA will receive $1.2 million of Energy
Department funds to develop a new gas
injection enhanced oil recovery process. The
goal is to effectively recover trapped oil by
boring a producing well horizontally near the
bottom of the oil-bearing formation, then
injecting gas through vertical wells to create a
gas zone that will force the oil to drain into the
Oklahoma University, Norman, OK will
receive nearly $1.5 million to focus on microbial enhanced oil
recovery. University researchers are developing more effective
and cost efficient biosurfactants - microbial organisms that
behave like detergents to sweep oil from a reservoir.
University of Houston, Houston, TX will receive nearly $1.2
million to develop an inexpensive surfactant - another soap-like
chemical - that can free oil trapped in carbonate formations.
Carbonate formations hold vast amounts of unrecovered oil -
perhaps 20 billion barrels in three major Texas regions alone -
but they pose difficult challenges for producers. Surfactants were
developed for sandstone reservoirs, but now University of
Houston researchers want to determine if, under the right
conditions, they can be effective in carbonate reservoirs.
As with much of the Department's oil technology program, these
enhanced recovery projects are aimed at assisting the smaller
independent U.S. oil producers who conduct virtually no research on
their own. Most of the unrecovered oil in the U.S. resides in fields
operated by independent producers.
Today, small independent businesses account for more than 50
percent of domestic petroleum production in the lower 48 states. Most
are facing increasing economic and technical difficulties associated
with harder-to-recover resources. They rely on the partnership with the
Department of Energy and its R&D network to develop novel
approaches and improved methods to enhance oil recovery.
The Department's Oil Technology Program support advanced
"reservoir efficiency processes" that offer novel approaches to
complex challenges confronting U.S. producers. As our domestic oil
resources continued to be depleted, the applications of the methods
and processes developed from this program will become more crucial.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.