What should the US do to increase domestic supplies of oil? That's been one of the hottest topics on the table this year as fears of energy security dominate headlines. With prices at the pump skyrocketing and international oil supplies at risk, many believe the answer is to drill more or follow through with the Keystone XL pipeline, pumping crude from Canadian oil sands into refineries in the US. But what about the stockpile of domestic oil resources right below our feet?
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that there are up to 430 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the U.S., with more working oil and gas rigs than any other country in the world. It would take years before the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline could even come close to that volume, reaching a transportation capacity of roughly 900,000 barrels per day—not to mention its potentially devastating environmental consequences.
The problem is, hundreds of oil wells shut down earlier than necessary, because the remaining oil is considered “stranded.” Up until this point in time, enhanced oil recovery (EOR) has only been able to go so far, typically leaving about 80 percent of oil behind.
Wavefront Technology Solutions, a Canadian based company, has devised a solution for extending the life of those wells using advanced technologies without posing a risk to the environment. Using its specialized PowerWave equipment, oil companies can slow the rate of production decline and extend the life of oil fields by 10 percent or more in most cases.
How does it work? Envision a kink in a garden hose, building up momentum as water continues flowing at a steady rate. Releasing that kink creates a sudden burst of water. Pulsing water or CO2 into the ground in this way allows for the stream to move outside its typical path of least resistance. Although injecting water into wells as a form of SOR or EOR is not a new concept, traditional methods have not been optimized in the same way. The fluid pulse caused by the PowerWave allows for greater contact of hard to reach oil remaining in the nooks and crannies of a reservoir.
“Oil recovery is a contact sport,” explains Wavefront's CEO Brett Davidson. “In order to maximize recovery, you need to contact the oil in place. With PowerWave, we're sweeping a greater portion of the reservoir, gaining a much better distribution of the fluid that we're injecting.”
In the late 1990s, Davidson and a couple of his professors started testing the cause and effect of releasing energy into the ground. They discovered that the use of a fluid pulse, similar to the way a heartbeat moves fluid in different directions throughout the body, provided greater distribution of the substance being injected into the ground. As a result, surrounding production wells also experience an increase in recovery between 55 and 250 percent, Davidson explained.
Today, there are well over a quarter million wells, and growing, being used for EOR around the world. With world energy demand on the rise and oil production in a decline, nearly every oil company is looking at innovative ways to maximize oil recovery to extend field life and save money. Improving current methods of EOR significantly reduces the need to merely drill more to keep production up.
“We don't have to necessarily drill as many wells to get the same, or greater, amount of oil from the ground,” says Davidson. “By applying PowerWave as an optimization technique to current methods being used for EOR, we might be able to reduce the overall number of wells being drilled by maximizing oil recovery.”
What's more is Wavefront's technology can also be applied to the mining, geothermal and environmental sectors. In groundwater remediation, for example, contamination underground is commonly treated by injecting a liquid disinfectant. What Wavefront's PowerWave system does in the oil industry, PrimaWave does in the environmental sector. It optimizes injection of the substance to enhance contact with the underground contaminant, alleviating the need to drill more wells to cover the same area.
TRANSFORMING OIL RECOVERY
Davidson explains that Wavefront's technologies have enormous potential in tapping the US's abundantly, hard to reach oil supplies. Although the technology is only in about one percent of the number of wells available for EOR, PowerWave's proven success and continuous growth is expected to become commonplace throughout the industry and have a real impact on domestic energy security.
“Of course, we're going to have to pursue all types of energy moving forward,” explains Davidson. “But with PowerWave, it's possible to increase ultimate recovery by 10 percent or more, which would significantly reduce North America's reliance on foreign imports of oil or oil sands pipelines.”
Quite simply put, “The technology will allow us to go back to reservoirs that may have been skipped over or abandoned and apply another round of production where normally we may have assumed there was nothing left,” Davidson concludes. “That's a big win for the industry moving forward—that we can revisit mature or abandoned assets, revitalize them and squeeze more ounces out of them.”