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Norm Morrow’s UW Career Defines ‘Pioneer’

February 24, 2014
Man smiling
UW Professor Norm Morrow, long regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on wettability, was honored for his career contributions in the field of improved oil recovery. (UW Photo)

If anyone deserves the designation of “pioneer” in the field of improved oil recovery (IOR), it is University of Wyoming Professor Norman Morrow, whose work in developing low-salinity flooding to unlock the secrets of oil and gas reservoirs and subsurface processes is appreciated and applied throughout the world.

Morrow, the Wold Chair of Energy in the UW Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, recently was overwhelmingly selected to receive the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ IOR Pioneer Award.

The award recognizes and expresses special appreciation to individuals who have pioneered and made significant advancement in the technology for improving oil recovery, says Dwight Dauben, chairman of the 2014 Pioneer Awards Committee. He says nominees must be involved in and enjoy industry recognition for their involvement in one or more phases of IOR activity, and generally have established two to four decades of their careers to the development and application of leading-edge technology designed to increase recovery from older oil fields.

“The description of IOR Pioneer could hardly fit anyone or any situation more aptly than Professor Morrow’s role in the development of low-salinity flooding for IOR,” wrote William R. Rossen, professor of reservoir engineering and head of the petroleum section in the Department of Geoscience and Engineering at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands.

The field of-low salinity flooding was unknown before Morrow and his students published a series of papers in the late 1990s, Rossen says. He adds that the field now is the subject of intensive research as well as application.

“My impression is that most major integrated oil companies are investigating or implementing this approach,” Rossen says.

Morrow, the only UW engineering professor ever elected to the National Academy of Engineering, has long been regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on wettability, noted another colleague, Don W. Green, University of Kansas emeritus distinguished professor.

“His research has focused on understanding of basic phenomena that affect oil displacement and recovery by improved oil recovery processes at the pore-scale level,” Green says. “Phenomena studied include wettability and capillarity, structure of residual oil saturation, effects of interfacial tension on displacement, wettability and contact angles, mobilization of residual oil, and correlation of the capillary number with residual oil, among others.”

Green points to the financial support given to Morrow’s research group by several major companies over several decades: “Much of this funding has been unrestricted, indicating a high level of respect for his work,” he says.

While noting appreciation for the recognition of his colleagues, Morrow says much more needs to be accomplished.

“There is much room for improved fundamental understanding of waterflooding and spontaneous imbibition and how these processes relate to most other IOR processes,” Morrow says. His newest UW patented IOR technique, Sequential Waterflooding, is currently being tested in the Wyoming Osage oil field concurrently with laboratory studies at UW for this field.

He also would like to see a return to form for basic research and development in the oil and gas industry.

“The high current level of IOR and enhanced oil recovery activity justifies the re-establishment of more industry laboratories comparable to the numerous renowned production research laboratories of former times,” Morrow says.

Morrow joined UW in 1992 as professor in the petroleum engineering department and Distinguished Scientist at WRI. He was appointed to the John and Jane Wold Chair of Energy in 2004.

His research covers a wide range of topics with special emphasis on understanding crude oil/brine/rock interactions, especially with respect to the effect of wettability on oil recovery. Morrow founded a biennial international conference on reservoir wettability in the 1990s, which has been held in eight countries up to now. He has 185 publications and four patents resulting from his research.

He was a Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) distinguished lecturer and twice an SPE distinguished author, and has served numerous journals in various capacities from reviewer to chairman of the editorial board.

In 1996, Morrow received the Society of Core Analysts Technical Achievement Award. He was elected to the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences in 1999 and awarded the Kapitsa Gold Medal of Honor. In 2001, he was elected to the United States National Academy of Engineering.

In addition to numerous best papers, national and international awards, and honorary professorships, Morrow has been recognized by UW through the J.E. Warren Distinguished Professorship in 1999; the 2000 Award for Excellence in Internationalization; the 2001 Presidential Award for Research; the 2006 Presidential Faculty Achievement Award; the 2007 Distinguished Graduate Faculty Mentor Award; and the 2007 College of Engineering Sam Hakes Graduate Teaching and Research Award.

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