Oil & Gas Producers Innovate to Tap Hard-to-Reach Resources

Stories of Enhanced Recovery from China, Ecuador and Texas

By Jim Montague

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Automation Fair 2012

Despite sustainability advances, the world is ever thirstier for oil and natural gas, especially in developing regions with a growing middle class. To supply this ravenous and accelerating demand, producers are forced to explore more widely and deeply than ever before and cope with far higher capital operating costs, yawning skill and experience gaps, and increasing regulations.

"Operators are overwhelmed with data, and enterprise-level managers are also struggling with all the 'big data' in their organizations," said Elizabeth Parkinson, market development manager for Rockwell Automation's oil and gas division, at this morning's Oil & Gas Industry Forum at the Automation Fair in Philadelphia.

"At the same time, subject-matter expert pools are shrinking, so resources need to be shared," Parkinson continued. "However, remote visibility empowered with live data is challenging, so decision-makers aren't equipped to do it and often focus on incorrect priorities. The actions that drive better capabilities include applied automation via improved network and controller loading, avoiding bottlenecks, designing systems with process sub-system dynamics in mind and optimizing system performance. It's also vital to present data on dashboards and use better reporting and data strategies, but also maintain firewalls and leverage other services, such as cloud computing."

Rockwell Automation, its system integrators and end users are coming up with some stunning innovations to help increase the efficiency and productivity of their production applications. For example, the Oil & Gas Industry Forum showcased three creative process control and automation projects. Perhaps alerted to these innovations, about 250 visitors to the fair stopped by and turned the forum into a standing-room-only event.

"Rocket Engine" Extraction

First up, Mei Lixin, CEO of Jiangsu Great River Petroleum Technology in Jiangyin, China, reported that his eight-year-old company has developed a new method—Composite Heat Carrier Generator (CHCG)—to greatly increase oil and gas yields, and has even designed an explosion-proof version for offshore platforms. The firm provides technical and support services to increase production yields for China's largest oil and gas companies, including CNPC, CNOOC and SinoPec.

"There have been three traditional ways of enhanced oil recovery—thermal recovery, gas injection and chemical injection. We think there is a fourth way by combining the original three," said Lixin. "It's based on the working principle of combining fuel, air and water in a sealing room, and then injecting them at extremely high temperature and pressure—almost like a rocket engine—into the target reservoirs, which are mostly in light oilfields, heavy oilfields and low-permeability."

Hot, pressurized gases—including CO2, nitrogen, steam and chemicals—are injected into wells that are typically 300 to 3000 meters deep. "The three main ingredients in our CHC greatly thins the crude in the reservoirs, makes it much easier to extract, and has zero carbon emissions to the environment," explained Lixin. "And our process has less than 2% residual oxygen, which makes it safer to operate."

To reliably control and maintain its innovative CHCG system, Lixin added that Jiangsu Great River chose to employ a variety of Rockwell Automation's ControlLogix controllers, software and other components, and even implemented them in an explosion-proof cabinet for use on offshore oil rigs. "CHCG requires a highly reliable control system, good maintenance, remote access and global support, and Rockwell Automation was able to provide us with a turnkey system that solved our previous issues."

So far, Lixin reported that CHCG is allowing the oil companies that Jiangsu Great River serves to extract significantly more oil and gas. "In heavy oilfields, compared to regular steam injection, the oil recovery ratio has increased 10% to 15% after CHC injection," said Lixin. "As a result, the production rate of oil from each well is 6.6 times that of original production rates. Also, the Nanbao heavy oilfield was the first application of CHCG offshore, and it met the explosion-proof requirements, ran stably and increased daily production rates by a factor of six."

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