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Enhanced Oil Recovery

Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) has left naysayers, who had warned that wells were running dry, eating their words in the face of increasing output.

Oman’s oil output began to wane in the mid-2000s, falling from 970,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2000 to just 710,000 bbl/d in 2007. The figure rebounded to 924,000 bbl/d in 2012, with total proven reserves of 5.5 billion barrels, ranking the Sultanate seventh in the Middle East and 21st in the world. Likewise, Oman, as the largest oil-producing nation in the Middle East that is not a member of OPEC, is seventh in the region and 22nd in the world in terms of production. This has been possible thanks to EOR methods, many of which are employed in the country, including in the thermal EOR, chemical EOR, and miscible gas injection categories. Due to the high costs associated with such methods, the government has put in place incentives in order to encourage international oil companies to explore and develop. The government aims to produce around 940,000 bbl/d in 2013 and maintain that level for a five-year period.

It is estimated that EOR techniques can prolong the lifespan of a field by 30 years, with a variety of methods employed in different circumstances. Thermal EOR typically involves the use of high-pressure steam to displace heavy oil, chemical EOR involves the injection of components including polymers, which also helps in oil displacement through the generation of ultra-low surface tension, while miscible gas injection, one of the most prevalent forms of EOR, helps to facilitate higher flow rates. All three methods are currently employed at Block 6, operated by PDO, making it the center of such operations in the country. At the block’s Harweel field, the injection of miscible gas has resulted in an extra 40,000 bbl/d of production, thermal methods could increase production at both Amal-East and Amal-West to 23,000 bbl/d by 2018, while steam injection could also boost production by 40,000 bbl/d by 2015 at the Qarn Alam field. At the southern Marmul field, a chemical EOR technique is being employed by PDO in cooperation with France’s SNF and Oman’s Bahwan Engineering Company that is effective due to the heavy nature of oil at the site. Where water injection may fail due to the viscosity of the heavy oil, chemicals such as polymer fluid can help to increase the flow. Water, however, could be employed at Yibal, a main site of oil production in the Sultanate, with predications by PDO suggesting the water-flooding method could boost output by 55%.

According to a US Energy Information Administration report, other EOR projects in the pipeline include the Karim Cluster, a cluster of 18 small fields that connect to the Nimr production facility, run by Indonesia’s Medco. EOR is expected to boost output at the fields from the current 18,000 bbl/d to around 35,000 bbl/d. Another upcoming EOR project is the Harweel Cluster, which PDO suggests could hit a capacity of 100,000 bbl/d in five years, up from 44,000 bbl/d. The addition of five further clusters, including the Rima Cluster, of up to 80,000 bbl/d is anticipated through various EOR methods.

EOR forms a key part of Oman’s future production plans, and has bought the Sultanate the time it needs to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons. And so as technology advances, it may be some time yet before Oman faces the imminent depletion of oil.

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