Enhancing the efficacy of thermal enhanced oil recovery with producer-friendly ISUT

Meeting producers where they are at is essential for implementing innovation in the oil sands

Enhancing the efficacy of thermal enhanced oil recovery with producer-friendly ISUT
Miranda Stahn
July 27, 2022

An ongoing and prominent challenge faced by oil producers remains to find effective ways to enhance (or, in some instances, simply maintain) the recovery factor of mature oilfield sites. When a reservoir is initially tapped, producers initially and quickly exact a low-viscosity lighter crude oil. However, as the site ages, the chemistry of the remaining product shifts to a more dense, viscous heavier crude, which becomes more challenging to recover, impacting the bottom line of the entire operation.  

Therefore, the benefit of investment in innovative strategies to enhance the recovery rates of brownfield operations is two-fold. First, it enables operators to continue to turn-over profit from established sights without significant additional investment or the cost of setting up a greenfield (new) operation. While secondly, it makes the overall oil recovery and production process more environmentally friendly and sustainable by delaying the immediate need to set up additional greenfield (new) operations.

A common technique deployed in Alberta to improve the recovery rations of mature wells is thermal enhanced oil recovery (EOR). During this process, large volumes of steam are injected into the reservoir to reduce the viscosity of the remaining product, making it easier to draw to the surface and allowing producers to extract additional oil before closing operations. Despite extending well life, this process has an additional environmental burden. It contributes significantly to a site’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as burning natural gas is the most effective way to heat steam to the high temperatures required for thermal EOR (upwards of 350℃).  

Innovators have piloted several solutions to decrease the volumes of natural gas required for this process, such as installing solar panels to help offset steam generation from natural gas or using various COfoams to help move crude from deep within the well to the surface where they can be extracted. However, the traction of these technologies has been relatively lukewarm for various reasons, including upfront capital expense, the complexity of installation, or the reliability of some of these modern techniques. 

Although they have the potential to be effective, these aforementioned processes miss the mark on one key business tenant of meeting your customer where they are at. They often require process changes or significant capital investment/site investment. Therefore, if innovators truly understood their customers, they would propose processes that leverage their existing expertise, can easily be adapted into current processes and don’t require hefty installs.

This is where NanosTech has found its stride in the EOR market. Their innovative In-Situ Upgrading Technology (ISUT) has the potential to strike a chord with producers. Their proposed solution involves a one-time injection of their proprietary and highly specific nanocatalyst via the company’s patented and module CatSKID technology, which will support the formation of a catalytic bed within the well-site. Once established, by enhancing natural chemical reactions (as catalysts do), the injected nanocatalyst will reduce the viscosity of the remaining crude, making it easier and more energy efficient to extract by reducing the temperature and steam to oil ratio (SOR) required for thermal EOR recovery. Cumulatively, this reduces the net cost of brownfield site operations and their net GHG emissions by decreasing the amount of steam required for the overall process. 

As this solution integrates into existing processes without any extensive site or process modifications, it presents itself as a reasonably lucrative option to producers looking to extend the life of their wells, with recent case studies demonstrating its capacity to increase yields upwards of 90%. Moreover, ISUT has other advantages besides enhancing thermal EOR, including reducing the need for expensive diluent and producing a higher quality oil that needs less processing in downstream refinery processes. 

Ultimately, NanosTech has carved itself out as a leader in producing cleaner, more refined fuels by creating revolutionary catalytic-based technology and understanding and leveraging the strengths and assets of its already established consumer market. 

Additional information about ISUT can be found here: https://www.nanos.tech/our-solutions/isut