The Ergosphere
Saturday, December 31, 2005
 

The Weyburn option

The peak of oil is coming fast, says all experience.  Worldwide discoveries fell off a cliff in 1985 and have been well below consumption ever since.  Both British and Norwegian production in the North Sea has peaked.  Mexico's Cantarell field has peaked.  Even Kuwait's biggest field has peaked.  Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field, biggest in the world, is rumored to be pumping 80% water and can't be far behind.  What's going to happen?

The executives of oil companies and rulers of the oil oligarchies may have very narrow expertise and large blind spots, but they are not stupid.  They know their own business very well.  We can expect them to take actions which increase their return on investment and keep them relevant for as long as they can.

Saudi Arabia is a big case in point.  It produces about half its output from just one oil field.  Its remaining fields are either small, yield heavy/sour oil, or both.  These heavy-oil fields include Safaniya.  The lack of demand for this heavy oil (which is not easily processed in conventional facilities) has caused the Saudis to look at refining it themselves and selling product instead of crude.

This would be a very profitable move, but also more than that.  It would allow the Saudis to extract billions more barrels of oil from their light/sweet fields like Ghawar.

One of the problems with the refining of heavy, sour oil is that it is involved and expensive.  I gather that the coking, hydrocracking, hydrodesulfurization and other processes expend a considerable amount of the crude.  Perhaps the best method is to gasify the oil, scrub it of contaminants, and synthesize only the desired hydrocarbons via Fischer-Tropsch or other processes.  The resulting fuels can be made to order:  ultra-low sulfur, low aromatics, tailored vapor pressure, high octane/cetane, even synthetic methanol and ethanol.  These would command top dollar.

Both hydrogen production (for cracking and desulfurization) and gasification processes convert part of the input into carbon dioxide, which is not a feedstock for fuels and must be removed.  Other processes also generate carbon dioxide; all the gas-fired desalination plants, powerplants and future gas-to-liquids plants will make plenty.  In most of the world this is just a waste product, but in Saudi Arabia, carbon dioxide would be a valuable substance.  The injection of water to maintain pressure is a danger to the oil fields; water isolates the immiscible oil in pores in the rock and prevents it from flowing to the wells.  But what if the injected liquid wasn't an immiscible fluid, but a solvent?

Supercritical carbon dioxide is a solvent for many things; it is being used as a clean replacement for chlorinated dry-cleaning fluids.  It also mixes with at least some types of crude oil and makes them more fluid.  CO2 from a synfuels plant in N. Dakota is being piped to an oil field in Weyburn, SK.  The injection of carbon dioxide has already raised the production of the field to more than 2/3 of its former peak (production graph), and is projected to greatly increase its ultimate recovery.  Applying the same techniques to a field like Ghawar could increase its total production by tens of billions of barrels.  At future prices, that could amount to trillions (that's trillion with a T, 1012) of dollars of product.

The same techniques could be applied to old fields in the USA; Pennsylvania and the band from Texas through Kansas have plenty of oil in the ground that's unrecoverable with previous techniques.  Pumping captured CO2 (available from any coal-fired powerplant converted to IGCC, and there are plenty of powerplants in Ohio) into the ground could bring up a lot of that, and both cut net carbon emissions and soften the production declines that are coming.  Unfortunately, I don't see this happening here.  The vision doesn't exist; the electric utilities aren't interested in oil and will stonewall anything that looks like carbon emission limits, the oil companies see no money in reviving fields they no longer own and may already have paid to cap, and there's nobody like a T. Boone Pickens ready to put them together for his own profit.

In the end, the most effective palliative to oil depletion may wind up disused except by accident; the Weyburn Option may mostly be exercised by one of the least sophisticated and innovative societies on earth.  The trillions they reap from it will not be used to push us forward, but to bring the whole world back to the 7th century AD.

I'm normally an optimist, but that's one all-too-likely future that seems mighty ugly.

 
Comments:
Thanks for the post...that is fantastic info! I'm a bit confused by your pessimism. I don't understand the full cycle economics, but i would think that this type of recovery is a function of the price of crude...correct? It would be helpful to understand the breakeven long-term crude price that makes this process viable.
 
The revenue is a function of the price of crude, but I suspect (not an economist) that the drivers would be the price of CO2 (especially if it's negative due to carbon taxes) and overhead.  The KSA owns everything and has no regulatory hoops to jump through, while the USA has many land owners to be dealt with for pipelines and fields to be re-opened, environmental assessments for processes and no doubt other things I've not even heard of.

That's probably why this happened between N. Dakota and Saksatchewan; the field was still active and the area is lightly populated so there are relatively few land owners to deal with.
 
1)You mention "supercritical" CO2. Does the CO2 have to go through some kind of process before being used for oil recovery? If so, how elaborate is it?

2)There *are* CO2 pipeline operators in the US, like Kinder Morgan. Perhaps they would be logical people to put together the kind of deals you are envisaging.
 
Thanks for the link, things might not be so bad as I thought in the west. 

"Supercritical" just means that the temperature is above the critical point (where the gas/liquid phase distinction disappears).  For CO2, this is 31.1 C.
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home
Talk largely about energy and work, but also politics and other random thoughts


Mail Engineer-Poet

(If you're mailing a question, is it already in the FAQ?)

Important links

The FAQ
Glossary
The Reference Library

Blogchild of

Armed and Dangerous

Blogparent of

R-Squared




The best prospect for our energy future:
Flibe Energy

ARCHIVES
January 1990 / February 2004 / March 2004 / June 2004 / July 2004 / August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / November 2004 / December 2004 / January 2005 / February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / August 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 / December 2009 / January 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / June 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / December 2010 / January 2011 / February 2011 / March 2011 / April 2011 / May 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / October 2011 / April 2013 / November 2013 / December 2013 / January 2014 / February 2014 / March 2014 / April 2014 / July 2014 / August 2014 / September 2014 / October 2014 / November 2014 / February 2015 / April 2015 / October 2015 / March 2016 / April 2016 / May 2016 / June 2016 / July 2016 /


Powered by Blogger

RSS feed

Visits since 2006/05/11: