Monday, December 12, 2011

Suddenly An Extra 300 Billion Barrels of Crude Oil Is Available

Due to much higher prices for oil these days, an extra 300 billion barrels of conventional crude proved reserves have become available. Where can this oil be found? The same place the old oil was found -- in previously produced oil wells. As the price of oil rices, it becomes economical to return to old wells to retrieve some of the roughly 65% to 70% of the oil which was left in place, using advanced recovery techniques.
Currently when oil companies drill into an oil reserve they recover an average of 35 percent of the oil available. Shell estimates that there are many as 300 billion barrels and maybe more available by applying new techniques to old wells.

The so-called Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) techniques play on the physics of how oil is trapped in the rocks. Often the residual oil is thick and viscous and so won't flow to reservoirs. This can be recovered by heating the ground around it to make the oil less viscous, pushing it out using gases such as CO2 or injecting chemicals such as soap. Sometimes the oil can be pushed out by injecting steam or water with reduced salinity. The water is created through desalination, nanofilteration and reverse osmosis and helps to loosen oil that is stuck to rock. It can help retrieve an additional 10-15 percent of oil.

These sorts of techniques weren't cost effective in the 1990s when the cost per barrel fell to as low as $17 (£10.90). Brock explains: "These are more expensive barrels. They could be two to three times what a conventional barrel costs to extract." Now, however, oil prices are high (over $100 (£64) per barrel) so it makes economic sense to spend more money trying to retrieve oil, especially when there is existing infrastructure. _Wired
Year to year, global proved oil reserves have continued to rise. A significant part of this increase is due to improved methods of oil recovery from existing wells.

Advanced nuclear reactors will allow even more thorough recovery of oil from old wells, using the process heat. The same source of heat will allow for cheaper and cleaner production of oil from oil sands and oil shales.

As plentiful high temperature process heat from modular nuclear reactors becomes more widely available for use in oil production and refining, the EROEI for both enhanced oil recovery and the production of unconventional liquid hydrocarbons will shoot upward into profitable territory for the long-term future.

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