|When Ranger Petroleum Corporation of Long
Beach, CA, brought in the Watson No. 2 exploratory well in January
1932, the completion yielded a flow of 150 bbl/day of clean
14 °API crude oil from pay at 3,674-784 ft.
Back then, such a flow rate of low-gravity oil in a wildcat
didn't exactly set the heart racing. It even took state authorities
54 months to declare the result a new field discovery.
Little did they know it would evolve into one of the four largest
oilfields in the United States and one of the most impressive
success stories of urban oilfield development.
Wilmington oilfield, the biggest in the Los Angeles Basin,
extends southeast to northwest through the basin, from the middle
of San Pedro Bay through the City of Long Beach and east of
the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Click here for the Wilmington
field location ma.)
The field's original-oil-in-place volume is estimated at 9
billion bbl. It has produced over 2.6 billion bbl of oil to
date, and remaining proved reserves are pegged at about 340
million bbl. Wilmington produced about 14-15 million bbl/year
from more than 1,200 wells in 2004-2005 and currently produces
about 40,000 bbl/day of oil, 10 million cubic feet per day of
natural gas, and about 35 million bbl/month of water at a 95
Even more remarkable than its current robust production numbers
is the aging field's unique history. Wilmington is a broad,
gently sloping anticline about 13 miles long by 3 miles wide,
much of it underlying Long Beach Harbor, one of the world's
largest commercial shipping ports. (Click here to see photo
of Long Beach Harbor today.) More than 1,000 wells were
drilled in its initial development during 1939-42 by a consortium
of companies called Long Beach Oil Development Company, the
city's first oil contractor. (Click here to see a photo of Terminal
Island drilling-production operations in the 1940s.)
The rapid rate of oil extraction contributed to a catastrophic
subsidence problem. First noticed in 1941, with a drop of more
than a foot, it wasn't clear what was causing the subsidence.
By 1958, ground level had dropped by 27 ft in the field's center,
and a large area of the city had sunk below sea level, causing
damage to industrial and port facilities and requiring the installation
of levees and breakwatersall at a cost of more than $100
million. (Click here to see a photo of subsidence
at Long Beach.)
A $30 million program of water injection got underway in 1953,
in part to combat the subsidence but also to introduce secondary
recovery. The waterflooding succeeded at both levels. Subsidence
was halted by 1962and even rebounded, recovering as much
as 2 ft of ground leveland oil production increased. The
billionth barrel of oil was produced at Wilmington by 1964.
What could have been just a costly disaster for one of the Nation's
most important ports and a black eye for the oil industry was
corrected with a solution that not only fixed the city's problem
but also yielded hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties
to the city. It also helped overcome drilling restrictions instituted
as a result of subsidence concerns, allowing further expansion
of the field offshore.
Expansion of Wilmington development proceeded in 1965 when
the City of Long Beach's oil contractor, the THUMS (Texaco,
Humble, Union, Mobil, and Shell) consortium, won approval to
drill the offshore extension of the field from four artificial
islands installed in Long Beach Harbor. (Click here to see a
photo of Long
Beach Harbor and the oil islands.) The 10-acre oil islands-Grissom,
Chaffee, White, and Freeman-were named after four astronauts
who lost their lives in the early days of the U.S. space program.
(Click here to see a photo of Grissom
Island.) The drilling rig masts on the islands were cleverly
camouflaged and landscaped to look like residential buildings
in a resort-like setting. (Click here to see a photo of a Long
Beach oil island.) To this day, the City of Long Beach receives
inquiries from real estate buyers interested in "those
high-rise condos in the harbor."
Wilmington field development has received worldwide recognition
for its success in developing a world-class oilfield in an urban
setting without interfering with the port's massive shipping
operations, disrupting the harbor's recreational resources,
or detracting from the shoreline's natural beauty. And all of
this occurred in a state widely regarded by industry as having
the world's most stringent environmental regulatory regime.
(Click here to see a photo of Grissom
Overall, more than 6,150 wells have been drilled in Wilmington
field in the roughly 70 years it has been producing. Oil is
produced from five major sand intervals at depths ranging from
2,000 ft to 11,000 ft. The entire field is now under waterflood,
and steamflooding has been implemented in some areas. This not
only boosts oil recovery, but the continued water injection
also halts underground compaction and surface subsidence.
The eastern part of Wilmington, also known as the Long Beach
Unit, was developed with more than 1,000 wells drilled during
1965-1982 and underwent infill drilling with 460 more wells
during 1982-86. Occidental Petroleum Corp. acquired THUMS in
2000; its wholly owned subsidiary Occidental Long Beach Inc.
is the field contractor for the Long Beach Unit today. (Click
here to see a map
of Long Beach oil operating areas.)
A small, Long Beach-based independent, Tidelands Oil Production
Company, is the field contractor for the western portion of
By 1991, declining production in the onshore, western portion
of the field had led the City of Long Beach to start looking
into abandoning that area of the field because of its perceived
limited remaining potential. After receiving two DOE projects
awarded in 1995, Tidelands has been able to maintain the western
area properties despite a big well and surface facility abandonment
program necessitated in part by earlier subsidence. At the same
time, port expansion work enabled Tidelands to gain assistance
from the Port Authority in replacing infrastructure.
The next step was to carry through an ambitious effort, funded
in part by DOE and managed by NETL, to boost production and
increase ultimate recovery of oil in Wilmington's western area
in a cost-effective and environmentally sound manner. (Click
here to see a aerial photo
of Wilmington production areas.)
Tidelands' project is expected to add ultimately 13 million
bbl of incremental oil production in a small portion of Wilmington
field. (A detailed project summary
is provided here for a brief update of the project.)
If the new technology and innovative techniques developed under
the project are applied field-wide, it could result in boosting
Wilmington's ultimate oil recovery by 525 million barrels of
oilan increase of over 150 percent from the latest estimate
of remaining oil reserves in the field. Achieving that jump
in a single oilfield equates to a 2.5% increase in total U.S.
proved oil reserves. An aggressive effort to transfer this technology
could boost reserves in similar fields in California by 1.4
billion barrels of oil.
The project originally had envisioned an increase in production
in that targeted portion of Wilmington field from 8,000 barrels
per day of heavy oil in 2005 to 9,600 barrels per day in 2010.
A drilling program based on lessons learned from the DOE research
already has hiked oil production in the target area from 6,100
barrels per day in 2002 to an average 8,793 barrels per day
in November 2005a level researchers didn't expect to achieve
before late 2007. Expectations now are that the project will
reach almost 10,000 barrels per day by the end of 2006.
Tidelands' project called for using advanced reservoir characterization
and thermal production technologies together with horizontal
drilling to improve the efficiency of a deep, heavy oil steamflood
in Wilmington field. The main producing horizon at Wilmington
is a slope-and-basin clastic (SBC) reservoir. Steamflooding
had been economic in Wilmington field even when oil prices were
low, because the operators had access to a low-cost source of
steam from a nearby power plant. However, inexpensive steam
isn't expected to be available to Wilmington operations in years
to come, as the power plant has shut down. Future expansion
of thermal enhanced oil recovery (EOR) to other parts of Wilmington
field thus depends on improving the efficiency and economics
of heavy oil recovery apart from the steam source.
The DOE-funded project addressed several producibility problems
in two large portions of Tidelands' operating area that are
common to SBC reservoirs. Difficulties with oil recovery arose
frequently because the targeted Wilmington formations are relatively
deep, high-pressured, and heterogeneous compared with those
found in thermal EOR projects elsewhere in the state.
Among many other innovations, Tidelands developed:
- an advanced computer model to simulate the Wilmington
reservoir, which it used to optimize steam, hot water, and water
injection with oil production efforts without causing surface
subsidencea perennial problem in the field;
- a series of operational changes based on the new reservoir
model to improve heat efficiency, reduce costs, and expand steamflood
- new horizontal steamflood pilots, with the aid of new
3-D computer models;
- a novel alkaline-steam well completion technique that
controls excessive production of sand in the wellbore, cutting
capital costs by 25%;
- new ways to reduce the formation of scale minerals in
the producing wellbores, further trimming well costs;
- a new, commercial technology to scrub out deadly hydrogen
sulfide gases created in the steamflood at a 50% cost reduction;
- a new steam generator that can burn a variety of low-quality
waste gases created by the thermal EOR operations.
As a result of these innovations, Tidelands in 2003-2005 enjoyed
the most successful round of drilling in the Wilmington onshore
field area in 20 years, boosting production by 25-45 percent
just since 2003. The company attributes these successes to technologies
transferred from earlier DOE reservoir-class research. Several
of these technologies have since been commercialized by service
companies, been adopted or further researched by other oil companies,
or used by Tidelands in other operating areas. The company expects
some of its innovations to spread to other operators in the
Los Angeles Basin, one of the Nation's most prolificyet
high-cost and environmentally sensitiveproducing areas.
The project, entering its final phase, started up in 1995 and
is slated to end early in 2007.
DOE funding is expected to account for 40% of the project's
estimated total cost of more than $20 million.
In addition, NETL project manager Jim Barnes, based in Tulsa,
OK, noted that two significant companies have started up as
a result of the project: Dynamic Graphics, Inc. (DGI), Alameda,
CA, and Geomechanics International, Inc. (GMI), Houston.
DGI started expansion in the mid-1990s after they realized
the effectiveness of 3-D modeling in describing a complex reservoir
and oilfield such as Wilmington; since then, they have become
a 3-D modeling provider of choice to small and mid-size California
independent operators who have seen the value of this technology
for complex reservoirs, Barnes said. Tidelands teamed
with Stanford and the University of Southern California during
many of their investigative efforts; GMI was a company during
this time that came out of Stanford researchers, who developed
dipole acoustic/sonic [well] logs calibrated to accurately measure
porosity and oil saturation through acoustic wave technology.
Tidelands' Wilmington project is one of a number that DOE supported
in its Reservoir Class Oil Field Recovery program. Begun in
1991, the program targeted geologic classes of U.S. oilfields
that were on the verge of being prematurely abandoned. With
federal matching funds allowing higher-risk technologies to
be tried, many operators have been able to keep oil flowing
from these fields long after conventional wisdom labeled them
Much of Wilmington's oil is viscous, low gravity, and difficult
to recover by primary means. With proper reservoir description,
improved well completions, directional drilling, and the proper
application of steam, the recovery of this difficult-to-recover
oil has become an economic reality.
There are many other large, mature SBC reservoirs in the United
States, notably elsewhere in California and in the Gulf of Mexico.
With the new technologies and innovative techniques emerging
from Tidelands' ambitious project at Wilmington, other venerable
U.S. oilfield giants can win a new lease on life as well.
It certainly has paid off for the City of Long Beach and Tidelands
at Wilmington, where oil production now is expected to continue
for at least another 20 years.
This CD contains a partial record of the Tidelands DOE project,
DE-FC22-95BC14939, Increasing Heavy Oil Reserves in the Wilmington
Oil Field Through Advanced Reservoir Characterization and Thermal
Production Technologies, in the form of:
An annual report
covering the reporting period April 1, 1996, to March 31, 1997.
annual report, covering the reporting period April 1, 2005,
to March 31, 2006.
detailing the novel well completion technique developed
in the Wilmington project for controlling unconsolidated sand
formations by using steam.
A paper analyzing
stratigraphic equivalents to Wilmington field elsewhere
in the Los Angeles Basin, with an eye to transferring technology
from the project to other operators working in the basin.
assessing the project's use of detailed reservoir characterization,
3-D modeling, and horizontal drilling to boost oil recovery
in Wilmington field.
An image gallery depicting scenes old and new from the
Wilmington/Long Beach Harbor area, as well as recent project-related
photos. (Click here to view the Image
For further information, please contact Jim Barnes (NETL, firstname.lastname@example.org,
918-699-2076) or Scott Hara (Tidelands, email@example.com,