WASHINGTON, DC - A groundbreaking oil-recovery project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is coming to a close, but its success will continue to be felt throughout the United States and the world.
The project, titled "Increasing Heavy Oil Reserves in the Wilmington Oil Field Through Advanced Reservoir Characterizations and Thermal Production Technologies," began in 1995 with the goal of increasing recoverable heavy oil reserves in those sections of the Wilmington oilfield operated by Long Beach, Calif.-based Tidelands Oil Production Company. The Wilmington field, which runs roughly southeast to northwest through the Los Angeles Basin, is the third largest oilfield in the contiguous United States.
The project goal would be accomplished by testing and applying advanced reservoir characterizations and thermal production technologies. But the project set its sights beyond its particular corners of the Wilmington site: researchers hoped that successful application of these technologies would result in their implementation throughout the Wilmington field and, via technology transfer, to other, similar reservoirs.
The Wilmington project was instrumental in advancing technologies for modeling, reservoir characterization, horizontal well drilling, completion, and heavy oil thermal production operations in an environmentally sensitive, coastal area. When the project formally ended on March 31, 2007, the DOE-supported technologies that were applied in the project, extrapolated to a field-wide basis, accounted for 525 million barrels of incremental oil production at Wilmington field. This translates into a 2.4 percent increase in total U.S. proved oil reserves.
Thanks to DOE-funded technology, Tidelands experienced the most successful drilling in 25 years at the Wilmington onshore oilfield area. In fact, the best wells were drilled in an area that had been virtually given up as depleted. With technologies developed under Energy Department projects, initial well rates ranged from 159 to 1048 barrels of oil per day.
Technology transfer has been a major and ongoing benefit from this project, which was managed for the Energy Department by the Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). Throughout the course of this study, the project team partners published more original papers and gave more presentations to industry and non-industry groups than any other project in the Energy Department's Reservoir Class Oil Field Recovery program.
The successful DOE-supported technologies have traveled not just across the field, but across continents to Oman. Recently, Occidental Petroleum Corporation (Oxy) acquired Tidelands and is in the process of developing one of the largest steamflood projects in the world in the Mukhaizna oifield in central Oman.
According to NETL project manager Jim Barnes, "Technology transfer is the single most valuable aspect of the Wilmington project, which is why it's such a success to have this technology being used so far away from its native applications. The goal is to develop technology where someone says 'I can use this technology somewhere in my field' because the benefits reach more people. The innovations developed during the Wilmington project are noteworthy because they can be used anywhere and are not limited to this specific project."
Technology transfer ensures that the private sector is made aware of and deploys innovations emerging from Energy Department programs, thereby maximizing the benefits and effectiveness of these programs.