Science Current Events | Science News |

Research could lead to improved oil recovery, better environmental cleanup

August 03, 2012

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Researchers have taken a new look at an old, but seldom-used technique developed by the petroleum industry to recover oil, and learned more about why it works, how it could be improved, and how it might be able to make a comeback not only in oil recovery but also environmental cleanup.

The technology, called "microbial enhanced oil recovery," was first developed decades ago, but oil drillers largely lost interest in it due to its cost, inconsistent results and a poor understanding of what was actually happening underground.

The new findings by engineers at Oregon State University, published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, could help change that. This may allow the oil industry not only to produce more oil from their existing wells, but also find applications in cleaning up petroleum spills and contaminants.

"This approach of using microbes to increase oil recovery was used somewhat in the 1980s when oil prices were very high, but the field results weren't very consistent and it was expensive," said Dorthe Wildenschild, an associate professor in the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. "It's seldom used now as a result."

Oil drilling has always been difficult - it's not as simple as drilling a hole and watching the petroleum gush out of the ground.

That may happen for a while, but as a secondary step, water is often injected into the well to help flush out more oil. Such production techniques generally recover only one-third to one-half of the oil originally present in a reservoir.

A third approach sometimes used after water injection is to inject microbes into the well and "feed" them with sugars such as molasses to encourage their growth. This can clog some pores and in others has a "surfactant" effect, loosening the oil from the surface it clings to, much as a dishwasher detergent loosens grease from a pan.

"By clogging up some pores and helping oil move more easily through others, these approaches can in theory be used with water flushing to help recover quite a bit more oil," Wildenschild said.

The surfactant can be man-made, or microbes can be used to produce it at a lower cost. However, getting a particular culture of microbes to produce the biosurfactant under harsh field conditions is tricky.

"It's complicated, you have to use just the right microbes, and feed them just the right foods, to accomplish what you want to do," Wildenschild said.

In OSU laboratory experiments, Ryan Armstrong, a recent doctoral graduate at OSU, found that the clogging mechanism is the simplest and most effective approach to use, although combining it with the biosurfactant technology achieved optimal oil recovery.

A better fundamental understanding of this process - along with higher oil prices that better reward efforts to recover more oil - could lead to renewed interest in the technology on a commercial basis, the OSU researchers said, and make oil recovery more productive. As an extra benefit, the concepts might also work well to help remove or clean up underground contaminants, they said.


This work was supported by the Petroleum Research Fund of the American Chemical Society.

Editor's Note: A digital image demonstrating improved oil recovery is available online:

Oregon State University

Related Oil Recovery Current Events and Oil Recovery News Articles

Anti-clumping strategy for nanoparticles
Nanoparticles are ubiquitous in industrial applications ranging from drug delivery and biomedical diagnostics to developing hydrophobic surfaces, lubricant additives and enhanced oil recovery solutions in petroleum fields.

How much water do US fracking operations really use?
The oil and gas extraction method called hydraulic fracturing remains controversial for multiple reasons, one of which is its water use.

How much water does US fracking really use?
Energy companies used nearly 250 billion gallons of water to extract unconventional shale gas and oil from hydraulically fractured wells in the United States between 2005 and 2014, a new Duke University study finds.

Queen's researchers develop technology to reduce cost of purifying natural gas
Researchers at Queen's University Belfast have developed a cutting-edge method of reducing the carbon dioxide content of natural gas, a process of major economic and environmental importance in the oil and gas industry.

Oklahoma earthquakes linked to oil and gas drilling
Stanford geophysicists have identified the triggering mechanism responsible for the recent spike of earthquakes in parts of Oklahoma-a crucial first step in eventually stopping them.

'Myths' persist about the increase in human-caused seismic activity
Seismologists studying the recent dramatic upswing in earthquakes triggered by human activity want to clear up a few common misconceptions about the trend.

Tortuosity for fluid flow in 2-dimensional pore fractal models of porous media
Dr. Liang Luo and associate prof. Jianchao Cai, a renowned researcher on fractal and capillarity and guest chief editor of FRACTALS, have published their latest paper entitled Numerical simulation of tortuosity for fluid flow in two-dimensional pore fractal models of porous media.

Asphaltene analysis takes a giant step
Rice University researchers have developed an easy and accurate technique to detect and quantify the amount of asphaltene precipitated from crude oils, which bedevils the oil industry by clogging wells and flow lines.

Cheap asphalt provides 'green' carbon capture
The best material to keep carbon dioxide from natural gas wells from fouling the atmosphere may be a derivative of asphalt, according to Rice University scientists.

Foam favorable for oil extraction
A Rice University laboratory has provided proof that foam may be the right stuff to maximize enhanced oil recovery (EOR).
More Oil Recovery Current Events and Oil Recovery News Articles

Modern Chemical Enhanced Oil Recovery: Theory and Practice

Modern Chemical Enhanced Oil Recovery: Theory and Practice
by James Sheng (Author)

Crude oil development and production in U.S. oil reservoirs can include up to three distinct phases: primary, secondary, and tertiary (or enhanced) recovery. During primary recovery, the natural pressure of the reservoir or gravity drive oil into the wellbore, combined with artificial lift techniques (such as pumps) which bring the oil to the surface. But only about 10 percent of a reservoir's original oil in place is typically produced during primary recovery. Secondary recovery techniques to the field's productive life generally by injecting water or gas to displace oil and drive it to a production wellbore, resulting in the recovery of 20 to 40 percent of the original oil in place.

In the past two decades, major oil companies and research organizations have conducted extensive...

Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources Handbook: Evaluation and Development

Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources Handbook: Evaluation and Development
by Y Zee Ma (Author), Stephen Holditch (Author)

Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources Handbook: Evaluation and Development is a must-have, helpful handbook that brings a wealth of information to engineers and geoscientists. Bridging between subsurface and production, the handbook provides engineers and geoscientists with effective methodology to better define resources and reservoirs. Better reservoir knowledge and innovative technologies are making unconventional resources economically possible, and multidisciplinary approaches in evaluating these resources are critical to successful development. Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources Handbook takes this approach, covering a wide range of topics for developing these resources including exploration, evaluation, drilling, completion, and production. Topics include theory, methodology, and...

Surface Phenomena in Enhanced Oil Recovery

Surface Phenomena in Enhanced Oil Recovery
by Shah (Author)

It is with great pleasure and satisfaction that I present to the international scientific community this collection of papers presented at the symposium on Surface Phenomena in Enhanced Oil Recovery held at Stockholm, Sweden, during August 20-25, 1979. It has been an exciting and exhausting experience to edit the papers included in this volume. The proceedings cover six major areas of research related to chemical flooding processes for enhanced oil recovery, namely, 1) Fundamental aspects of the oil displacement process, 2) Micro­ structure of surfactant systems, 3) Emulsion rheology and oil dis­ placement mechanisms, 4) Wettability and oil displacement mecha­ nisms, 5) Adsorption, clays and chemical loss mechanisms, and 6) Polymer rheology and surfactant-polymer interactions. This...

Enhanced Oil Recovery

Enhanced Oil Recovery
by Larry W. Lake (Author)

Book by Lake, Larry W.

Improved Oil Recovery by Surfactant and Polymer Flooding

Improved Oil Recovery by Surfactant and Polymer Flooding
by D. O. Shah (Editor)

Enhanced Oil Recovery, II: Processes and Operations

Enhanced Oil Recovery, II: Processes and Operations
by Erle C. Donaldson (Editor)

Written by foremost experts in the field, and formulated with attention to classroom use for advanced studies in reservoir characterization and processes, this book reviews and summarises state-of-the-art progress in the field of enhanced oil recovery (EOR). All of the available techniques: alkaline flooding; surfactant flooding; carbon dioxide flooding; steam flooding; in-situ combustion; gas injection; miscible flooding; microbial recovery; and polymer flooding are discussed and compared. Together with Volume I, it presents a complete text on enhanced recovery technology and, hence, is an almost indispensible reference text. This second volume compliments the first by presenting as complete an analysis as possible of current oilfield theory and technology, for accomplishment of maximum...

Enhanced Oil Recovery: Field Planning and Development Strategies

Enhanced Oil Recovery: Field Planning and Development Strategies
by Vladimir Alvarado (Author), Eduardo Manrique (Author)

Enhanced-Oil Recovery (EOR) evaluations focused on asset acquisition or rejuvenation involve a combination of complex decisions, using different data sources. EOR projects have been traditionally associated with high CAPEX and OPEX, as well as high financial risk, which tend to limit the number of EOR projects launched. In this book, the authors propose workflows for EOR evaluations that account for different volumes and quality of information. This flexible workflow has been successfully applied to oil property evaluations and EOR feasibility studies in many oil reservoirs. The methodology associated with the workflow relies on traditional (look-up tables, XY correlations, etc.) and more advanced (data mining for analog reservoir search and geology indicators) screening methods,...

Enhanced oil recovery (SPE textbook series) Volume 6

Enhanced oil recovery (SPE textbook series) Volume 6
by Don W. Green (Author), G. Paul Willhite (Author)

Enhanced oil recovery (SPE textbook series) Volume 6

Enhanced Oil Recovery Field Case Studies

Enhanced Oil Recovery Field Case Studies
by James Sheng (Editor)

Enhanced Oil Recovery Field Case Studies bridges the gap between theory and practice in a range of real-world EOR settings. Areas covered include steam and polymer flooding, use of foam, in situ combustion, microorganisms, "smart water"-based EOR in carbonates and sandstones, and many more. Oil industry professionals know that the key to a successful enhanced oil recovery project lies in anticipating the differences between plans and the realities found in the field. This book aids that effort, providing valuable case studies from more than 250 EOR pilot and field applications in a variety of oil fields. The case studies cover practical problems, underlying theoretical and modeling methods, operational parameters, solutions and sensitivity studies, and performance optimization strategies,...

Oil Sands, Heavy Oil & Bitumen: From Recovery to Refinery

Oil Sands, Heavy Oil & Bitumen: From Recovery to Refinery
by Dwijen K Banerjee (Author)

Unlike conventional oil resources, 'unconventional' resources have been known to exist only for the last few decades and are available in limited areas of the world. The most commonly known unconventional oils--oil sands, heavy oil, and bitumen--are found primarily in the western United States, Canada, and Venezuela. Only recently has serious consideration has been given to North American resources for meeting the increasing demands for transportation fuel.

Dr. Banerjee discusses the importance of these unconventional oils and provides an introduction for those beginning their journey in the still unexplored unconventional hydrocarbon resources of the world.

This new book is an important educational tool for anyone in the petroleum industry--whether upstream , downstream, or...

© 2015