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What would Daniel Yergin Say About Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Daniel Yergin, a well known and recognized expert in the oil industry often states that most of the problems involved in producing more oil today are 'above ground and not below ground'.

To a great extent he is right, but I am sure that he would also agree that there is a lot of oil trapped in global oil fields and today's oil recovery technology has not been successful in recovering a significant portion of remaining original-oil-in-place. A significant percentage (an average of 65%) of discovered oil resources remain trapped and cannot be recovered using conventional methods and processes - until now.

A new revolutionary, proven, and proprietary Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery (MEOR) technology developed by Titan Oil Recovery called the Titan Process® has proven after more than five years of working with multiple customers on their oil fields that it can recover a significant percentage (perhaps up to another 10%) of the unrecovered and trapped oil. This new oil is additional conventional oil production that the world badly needs. The Titan Process achieves this new production at a very attractive cost--under $10 per incremental barrel of oil. Based on estimates by the US Department of Energy referencing US oil fields and extrapolating to the worldwide oil industry, approximately 20,000 of the 70,000 existing global oil fields currently operating may be suitable for this type of recovery process. It might be appropriate to call this newly recovered oil, “new conventional oil”. Coupled with unconventional oil, the two forms of new production may have a significant impact on both US and global oil production.

In the US, nearly 20% of daily crude oil production comes from wells producing less than ten barrels of oil per day—nearly a million barrels of oil per day. While certainly applicable to many levels of production both onshore and offshore, MEOR is literally a “natural” for such marginal production and the impact can be quick, economical and potentially the only game in town for much of this production. Even the most bullish oil prognosticators would certainly be likely to agree that this is a target worthy of significant efforts by the industry.

Cost per incremental barrel of production will be the driver in all forms of tertiary oil recovery processes. At this moment, Titan’s MEOR process stands as one of the most cost effective means of producing incremental oil and requires little or no capital expenditure to implement.

Figure 1: Tertiary recovery processes will be driven by the incremental cost per barrel.

What the Titan Process has accomplished over the past five years

Titan’s performance or “report card” over the five-year period between 2007 and 2012 to date has been impressive:

  • Number of user oil companies - 10
  • Number of fields treated – 25
  • Number of treatments – 206
  • Estimated number of treatments in 2012 – most likely range is 75-100
  • Average increase in oil production for results to 12/31/11 – 102%
  • Average ROI – >300%
  • Average cost per incremental barrel of oil recovered - $6 to $10
  • Average time to fully test a new oil field before treatment – 150 days
  • Number of SPE Papers co-authored with customers - 4
  • Average cost to test and screen an oil field for suitability- $5,000
  • Average cost per well treatment (done three times per year) - $33,000
  • Applied to both on-shore and off-shore oil fields
  • Number of oil fields currently being tested in Titan’s lab – 31
  • Number of new oil companies in preliminary steps of testing – 13

There is much debate today on the subject of global supply and demand for conventional crude oil. Many believe that peak global oil production where supply can no longer meet demand will occur within the next few years. Others argue that there are still ample reserves of conventional oil to meet foreseeable needs.

Recent studies indicate that Peak Oil under the definition of conventional oil has already happened. Others believe that the new category of “unconventional” oil produced from unconventional sources (like tar sands, oil shale, and others) will provide the world with all of the oil it needs easily through the 21st Century and beyond. Hopefully, this will prove to be accurate. All camps agree, however, that affordability (i.e., cost per incremental barrel of oil produced) is essential for the long-term viability of oil energy, both conventional and unconventional, to meet world demand. Few new giant oil fields have been discovered since the early 1970s and most existing oil fields are currently experiencing significant annual production declines. Since oil energy is finite it is only a matter of time before the world runs out of oil.

Clearly, there is a critical need for new technology to achieve increased oil recovery at an affordable cost. Although “unconventional” oil offers great promise, it is still in its early stages of development and implementation and there are some challenging issues that must be resolved to allow these new technologies to become universally accepted and prove their long-term economic viability. A few of those issues are: 1) affordability (cost per barrel of oil recovered), 2) energy returned on energy invested (EROEI), 3) various environmental issues, and 4) life expectancy of the unconventional oil fields (how long will the fields be able to produce the recoverable oil). Certainly these issues present quite a long list of challenges. A fair statement today would be that unconventional oil looks very promising, but it will take time to work out the unknowns and confirm its viability. Affordable oil certainly may be one of the world’s major challenges of the current century.

Titan’s new breakthrough technology uses resident microbes that reside in many global oil reservoirs to release trapped oil. Where better to find more oil than where oil has already been produced? By successfully releasing the oil that is trapped in the pore space of the oil field reservoir formations, the opportunity is too great to overlook. The Titan Process has been successfully applied and commercially demonstrated on both onshore and offshore oil fields on three continents with many successful and on-going commercial field projects (10 oil companies at this writing) in California and Canada over the past five years.

Many forms of MEOR have been researched, developed, discussed, and field-tested over the past sixty years with very little commercial success. Until just recently, all MEOR technologies, as a category have been dismissed by many oil people as “snake oil” or “old technology that doesn’t work”. However, in practice the benefits of the Titan Process, have proven to be sound, affordable, repeatable, demonstrated, and available today by providing a new revolutionary technology twist that is fast emerging for increasing oil recovery in existing oil fields at the lowest cost in the industry today – less than $10 per incremental barrel of oil. The Titan Process is a new tertiary recovery process, but the intention is for this oil recovery process to become part of the normal course of events in oil recovery—primary, secondary (waterflood) and MEOR. Titan anticipates the use of the Titan Process earlier and earlier in the waterflood process where the benefit can be the greatest—not just in the late life of a field. The shift in thinking is just beginning.

Today, laboratory and customer field analysis indicates Titan’s MEOR technology can provide up to 10% additional oil recovery from the original-oil-in-place. If applied globally, this could result in many billions of additional barrels of oil. The Titan Process also can be used in conjunction with other secondary or tertiary recovery methods to further enhance those processes when conditions allow with no problems or harm to the oil field.

The Titan Process uses a proprietary approach to MEOR, targeting mature oil fields currently using conventional waterflood operations as a means of secondary recovery. Unlike previous attempts at MEOR, this process does not introduce microbes into the oil-producing reservoir. Instead, through a sophisticated analysis of field-specific crude oil and water samples taken from customer’s fields, resident microbes in the oil reservoir are identified and quantified in Titan’s lab allowing a “designer mixture” of environmentally benign nutrients to be formulated. Activating certain identified groups of microbes effects changes in flow characteristics of oil and induces the reservoir system to release additional oil. When stimulated and activated in the reservoir via the water injection system, resident microbes act to release oil that would normally be considered trapped or unrecoverable under conventional recovery techniques.

The process has been successfully applied to reservoirs with oil gravities as low as 16° API and as high as 42°. It is not currently suitable for natural gas or condensate fields or for ultra-heavy oil reservoirs.

The Challenge

About 80% of the conventional oil being produced today comes from fields discovered before 1973. Many (if not most) of these fields are now in serious production declines. Yet 65% of the original-oil-in-place remains trapped. Mature fields being maintained with increasingly more expensive oil recovery methods are experiencing annual production declines of 4% to 15% and are struggling to maintain profitability. The Titan Process has proven to be effective in increasing production, stabilizing or mitigating production declines, and prolonging an oil field’s producing life.

More than 20,000 wells are abandoned every year in the U.S. as they become non-commercial. Approximately 285,000 shut-in wells in the U.S. are potential targets for MEOR revival. Internationally there are about 800,000 more shut-in wells, a significant percentage of which may benefit from the Titan Process.

The Solution and the Titan Difference

The actual mechanics of the Titan Process at a molecular level are really quite simple. The microbes used in the Titan Process are non-pathogenic microorganisms that are often resident in oil reservoirs. They are non-threatening for plants, animals, and humans. They ingest organic material as a food source, which they metabolize during their life-cycle.

The microbial “digestive” process can form various bio-products such as alcohols, gases, acids, surfactants, and polymers, which, because of their origin, are all natural. For many microbial processes, bio-products (excreted by the microorganisms) cause a series of changes in the physical or chemical properties of the crude oil. Many previous and competing MEOR methods attempted to modify microbes to produce bio-gas, bio-surfactants (soapy substance), and bio-polymers (molecules that can thicken liquids) to effect the changes in the oil, or to create biomass to improve sweep efficiency. However, the economics of such processes are questionable based on chemical mass balance.

The Titan Process is unique because it does not require the microbes to excrete anything. The microbes are induced to become interactive with trapped oil causing it to break into smaller droplets with reduced interfacial tension (“frictional” effects between oil and water), so that oil can flow more freely through the rock formation. The oil characteristics do not change, but the flow characteristics and relative permeability to oil are significantly improved.

Combining bio-science with conventional petroleum engineering sciences can improve oil recovery. Many reservoirs contain resident microbes within the subsurface oil-water system. In other words, the reservoir harbors a natural biological eco-system that comprises trillions of microbes. Feeding and managing the ecology of the biomass with a specific nutrient formula allows potentially large amounts of oil to be recovered.

The Titan Process only uses biodegradable, microbe-free nutrients that are formulated to direct their work in the reservoir. The Titan Process is environmentally safe.

Non-glucose nutrient formulas are reservoir-specific based on thousands of empirical tests on many diverse types of crude oil. The existing natural microbial population is fed a small amount of food that is assimilated by the microbes. There is no change to the chemical makeup of the reservoir oil. There is no adverse environmental impact. Harmful chemicals, acids, and corrosive gas injections are eliminated from this enhanced oil recovery process. Sulfate reducing bacteria, which produce a detrimental substance, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), are crowded out by the microbes that are fed the Titan nutrients. Field tests show that H2S levels have been reduced in treated portions of the reservoir.

The Titan Process changes the secondary and tertiary production of oil by combining physical geo-science with the biological science of microbiology to allow the production of oil by managing and utilizing the biological energy of the oil reservoir itself.

What does the future hold?

The need for affordable oil has never been greater, if the world is to continue to grow and prosper as it has over the past 150 years. Oil is currently the driving force for the world to function and grow. Sufficient and affordable oil energy (both conventional and unconventional oil) is one of the world’s greatest challenges in the 21st Century.

Titan believes that it has clearly demonstrated that its new MEOR works in recovering trapped conventional oil based on its field results working with client oil companies over the past five years, Titan encourages other technology companies and competitors who have, or are developing their own MEOR technology, to join with Titan and help the world by recovering trapped oil in global oil fields because the world is going to need all of the affordable conventional and unconventional oil it can produce. The world continues to have an insatiable appetite for oil.

Globally, conventional oil is fast approaching what is commonly referred to as Peak Oil (where oil production can no longer meet demand). There is general agreement in the oil industry that the greatest amount of conventional oil that can be produced today is about 90 million BOPD.

With the recent major technology breakthrough in producing large amounts of unconventional oil, it now appears that large amounts of unconventional oil can now be produced and added to conventional oil production hopefully providing the world with enough total oil for a very long time.

In the near-term until most of the kinks have been resolved with unconventional oil, it seems logical that the oil industry should continue to maximize the amount of conventional oil it can produce at the lowest cost possible. Clearly, using MEOR technology should be one of the industry’s priorities. Producing incremental oil for under $10 per barrel should be an industry goal.

Titan believes that there will be continuing new and exciting developments with its MEOR technology and other oil recovery processes that involve the use of microbes and other new innovative processes. Titan expects MEOR to become a normal and accepted part of the production process—primary, secondary and MEOR on all applicable reservoirs.

This will be a new normal!

Author: C. Paul Davis, Senior Vice President
Company: Titan Oil Recovery Inc.

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