The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of the University of Wyoming
University of Wyoming
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
By Micaela Myers
Oil. We use it every day—from the cars we drive to the products we purchase. Wars are fought over it, and governments dream of self-sufficient oil supplies.
When a state whose oil production was previously declining realizes innovative ways to extract billions of barrels—all without ever drilling a new well—it’s big news.
“We’ve been able to help reverse the decline of oil production in the state, so we’re actually increasing production now,” says David Mohrbacher, director of the Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute (EORI) at the University of Wyoming.
The Wyoming Geological Association reports that about 8 billion barrels of oil remain in conventional Wyoming fields, and between 5 and 15 percent can be recovered with enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques—meaning EOR could increase the state’s oil production by 400 million to 1.2 billion barrels. UW’s EORI estimates that another 1 billion barrels of oil may be recovered from residual oil zones located in Tensleep formation reservoirs in the Big Horn Basin, and other residual oil zones have yet to be quantified.
“More than 90 percent of Wyoming’s oil production comes from mature oil fields,” Mohrbacher says. “With primary recovery, you typically recover in the 10 percent range. With secondary recovery (water flooding), you can get another 10 to 20 percent of the oil. In mature fields like we have here in Wyoming, we’ve only recovered about 30 percent of the oil that’s in the ground—the remaining 70 percent of the original oil that’s in place is a huge target for advanced technology.”
At the forefront of the effort is EORI—sponsoring research, bringing innovative technology to Wyoming operators, demonstrating that technology in real-world environments, and catalyzing implementation of enhanced and improved oil recovery in the fields.
The Wyoming Legislature created EORI in 1984 with the first Enhanced Oil Recovery Symposium taking place in 1985. In 2003, interest in EOR was gaining momentum, and UW produced a white paper analyzing the prospects for EOR in Wyoming. As a result, in 2004, the Legislature vastly increased funding for EORI and created the Enhanced Oil Recovery Commission (EORC) to direct the institute’s work. The institute is based in the state-of-the-art Energy Innovation Center at UW, home of the School of Energy Resources.
EORI works with Wyoming’s oil producers large and small. During the past few years, EORI directly contributed to projects that resulted in the development of more than 20 million barrels of new oil reserves, and the ad valorem and severance taxes associated with production of these reserves over the next 20 years are conservatively estimated at $150 million. And that is just the beginning.
“The thing about our state is that we’re so blessed with these mineral resources, but we have a lot of aging fields that have already gone through primary and secondary recovery,” says state Sen. Eli Bebout, an EORC commissioner. “We saw this could be a great place to have a quasi-governmental agency work with the university and really move (EOR) technology forward.”
“I think there were a lot of companies that were doing their own independent approaches to EOR, and by having a state-sponsored institute at UW, there’s more access to better quality information,” adds state Rep. Tom Lockhart, who was instrumental in creating EORI. “It’s been very successful at increasing the amount of oil and gas production.”
“It provides an opportunity for smaller operators to realize a greater recovery from their existing fields with technical support that they would not otherwise have within their organization,” says Tom Fitzsimmons of Fitzsimmons Energy LLC, who serves as chairman of the EORC. “One thing it’s important for people to recognize is that there is no greater form of conservation our industry can participate in than getting more oil out of tired old oil fields. It limits our need to develop green fields.”
Producers turn to EOR methods once primary and secondary water flooding methods have been exhausted. EOR involves flooding the reservoirs with carbon dioxide (CO2), steam or chemicals. In Wyoming, the use of CO2 and chemical flooding leads the pack. “Chemical flooding is where you inject foreign chemical agents into the reservoir—things like surfactants, alkalis and polymers,” explains Glen Murrell, EORI’s associate director and outreach manager.
Helping producers determine which methods are right for their fields is just one of the many services EORI provides. “EORI can bring to the table a lot of high-powered intellectual thought to help us optimize our fields because we just don’t have the capability to do it in-house,” says Tom Walker, manager of True Oil LLC.
“EORI has generated interest in these older, mature fields,” geologist and True Oil partner Shane True adds. “This has rejuvenated the Minnelusa and other mature plays.”
True Oil is part of EORI’s Minnelusa Consortium along with Osborn Heirs Co. and Merit Energy Co. Members of the consortium share information, and EORI provides operators with work products, such as geological models, dynamic simulations and optimized blends for chemical EOR. “It’s a very open, collaborative, technical working group, which is a very unusual situation to have among companies that are sometimes seen as competitors,” says Vicki Stamp, reservoir engineer for True Oil.
“It’s allowed us to learn of EOR experiences in the Minnelusa that other operators have seen,” Vice President of Osborn Heirs Nancy FitzSimon says of the consortium. “Having an organization like the institute, which encourages operators to collaborate and share data, will shorten the learning curve on any new process or play.”
EORI also works with Sunshine Valley Petroleum Corp. on its Osage Field, an older field that was water flooded in the 1950s. “EORI is helping us evaluate the field and determine what’s the best way to go in terms of chemical EOR,” says Wayne Neumiller, president of Sunshine Valley Petroleum. “The laboratory work they’re doing to determine the composition of the reservoir is something we normally wouldn’t have done because we wouldn’t have the dollars to make it work.”
In addition to laboratory studies and simulations, EORI shares knowledge via outreach. “They have conferences and workshops around the state that are being delivered to anyone who is interested in participating in them,” says Peter Wold, a partner at Wold Oil Properties Inc., a charter member of the EORC. “I think EORI is very, very important to the state of Wyoming because of the potential revenues that can be developed with the implementation of the research that’s being done at the institute.”
Outreach efforts include speakers, seminars and workshops that can be attended in person or online. The crown jewel of EORI’s outreach efforts is the Wyoming CO2 conference, held annually in July and attended by nearly 300 oil industry professionals from around the world.
Economic evaluations are another resource EORI provides. “One of the things I’ve been extremely impressed with is the economic model that’s been put together by the institute,” says EORI Technical Advisory Board member Mike Blincow, asset manager of CO2 supply for Denbury Resources Inc. “It’s a great screening tool that allows you to look at a lot of different ways to develop an EOR flood. That model to me is the shining star and is available to producers.”
What’s the future of EOR? “In Wyoming it’s CO2,” Murrell says. In 2012 alone, a total of 7.5 million barrels of oil were produced in Wyoming using CO2 floods. This equates to 12.5 percent of Wyoming’s annual oil production.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp. operates two of the nine CO2 floods in Wyoming to date. “Ken Hendricks [production engineering manager] has been part of the Technical Advisory Board since its inception, and Anadarko has been an active participant and sponsor of the annual CO2 conference,” Murrell adds.
“CO2 EOR is important to the United States being self-sufficient in regard to energy, and it also creates jobs and sustains the local economy,” Mohrbacher says. “And it does it in a very environmentally sensible way because we’re taking a greenhouse gas and putting it in the ground.”
The state has a natural supply of CO2 reservoirs in the southwest, and CO2 also can be captured from refineries and chemical plants. However, transporting it becomes an issue. “We’re working to attract investors who can help finance and build that distribution system,” Mohrbacher says.
“Carbon capture and sequestration lends itself particularly well to Wyoming and benefits the Wyoming economy a great deal because the primary way that you can utilize CO2 and get value out of it is to pump it back into the subsurface in oil reservoirs and get better yields of oil out of those,” says Dag Nummedal, director of the Colorado Energy Research Institute at Colorado School of Mines and director of the UW Institute for Energy Research from 2000 to 2004.
He adds, “You’ll attract the best students to a place like UW by having the kinds of research programs that solve today’s very visible problems. CO2 usage is very visible both politically and environmentally, and it’s of huge economic significance to Wyoming and other oil producing states.”
Bebout believes EORI is a perfect private-public partnership. “In a state like Wyoming, we’re so fortunate to have the mineral resources that we have and a proactive Legislature that looks at ways to enhance those. We work with a great university and talented people, and we put it altogether in the form of EORI and have great results for everybody,” he says, adding that UW provides the education students need to work and create new jobs in the state.
“It’s not just the increased reserves and the increased revenue to the state—it’s about job security for the well-paying jobs in the state,” Stamp adds.
As for the future, Fitzsimmons says, “We’ve got to continue to drive the technology down to the smaller organizations, but eventually we’re going to be a clearinghouse for technology that might be exported from the state.”