Research aims to enhance heavy oil recovery

By Everett Dorma Posted: April 24, 2015 9:00 a.m.

Researchers and PTRC officials left to right: Shuxin Wang, Hongze Ma, Dr. Yongan (Peter) Gu, Ken From (PTRC), Erik Nickel (PTRC), Fengshuang Du, and Kaiqiang Zhang.
Researchers and PTRC officials left to right: Shuxin Wang, Hongze Ma, Dr. Yongan (Peter) Gu, Ken From (PTRC), Erik Nickel (PTRC), Fengshuang Du, and Kaiqiang Zhang. Photo: U of R Photography

It is thick like molasses, lies deep underground and represents a big financial bonanza for Saskatchewan’s economy. It’s heavy oil and research at the University of Regina is helping lead the way in recovering this ‘black gold.’

Dr. Peter Gu is a professor of Petroleum Systems Engineering at the U of R. His research into enhanced heavy oil recovery processes is being funded by the Petroleum Technology Research Centre’s (PTRC’s) Heavy Oil Research Network (HORNET) program.

Saskatchewan has about 22 billion barrels of heavy oil trapped in the tiny pores of solid rocks located hundreds of metres underground. Right now primary production processes only extract five to seven per cent of heavy oil.  The oil that’s left in the ground represents lost cash flow for oil companies.  

“Methods to improve or enhance heavy oil recovery include flushing it out with water, chemically modified water flooding, thermal processes such as heating it up by injecting steam into a heavy oil reservoir and injecting solvents such as carbon dioxide (CO2), that help release the heavy oil from the rock,” says Dr. Gu.

The U of R research team under the direction of Dr. Gu is examining the use of solvents such as CO2 to bring more of that heavy oil to the surface through cyclic solvent injection (CSI) and waterflooding.

“We also want to develop a mathematical model and an experimental method for determining the diffusion coefficients for solvents in heavy oil (how fast solvents can be dissolved into the heavy oil to recover it) and create a database of these coefficients for typical heavy oil reservoir conditions in Saskatchewan,” says Dr. Gu.

PTRC, which is providing Dr. Gu with $80,000 for these two projects, is a non-profit corporation funded by the federal and provincial government and industry partners. The goal is to support research and development into enhanced heavy oil recovery and carbon storage.

“Enhancing heavy oil recovery by a few per cent is worth billions of dollars to Saskatchewan’s economy, maintains the industry and infrastructure currently in place and supports the communities in which they operate,”  - Ken From, CEO of PTRC.

PTRC, which was established in 1998, is the largest petroleum recovery research institute in Canada and is the University of Regina’s largest single Research & Development funding agency.  

“The Lloydminster area has the largest heavy oil deposits in Canada and our industry partners produce about 80 per cent of the heavy oil in Saskatchewan,” says Erik Nickel, Senior Project Manager, PTRC. “They are very satisfied with the research being conducted for us at the U of R.”
Dr. Gu notes the relationship is mutually beneficial as the funding allows the U of R’s faculties of Engineering and Science to bring numerous graduate students into this research.

“My two research projects, for example, allow me to support four researchers, three of whom are working on their masters and one on his doctorate,” says Dr. Gu

Research impact is a real area of strength at the University that we will continue to focus on as it is one of the three priority areas within our new Strategic Plan.

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