The challenges and opportunities of extracting heavy oil from the UK North Sea took centre-stage at an industry gathering in Aberdeen yesterday.
It is hoped the seminar, in the Marcliffe Hotel and Spa, will have stimulated interest in heavy oil, which is more difficult to produce than light crude because of its thick and sticky consistency.
For a long time, heavy oil has been seen as key to the continued success of firms working in the UK continental shelf as it reaches maturity. Yesterday’s event was the first in a new series being staged by the Aberdeen section of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE).
The Summit Series aims to provide high-level, niche seminars with speakers who are all experts in their topic. Seminar chairman Bob Ross, engineering director at Baker Hughes in Aberdeen, said several fields in the UK North Sea were classed as heavy oil – among them Mariner, Bressay, Kraken and Bentley – and at current crude prices the timing was good for developing them.
He said heavy oil had been around for more than 30 years, but multiple wells were required to develop such fields, so development was more expensive which was one reason it had not been at the top of operator agendas.
Ramin Lakani, operations manager for Baker RDS in London, said that unlike conventional crude-oil projects, heavy-oil fields required additional investment to increase well productivity and to enhance the recovery mechanism to make a project commercially viable.
He added that heavy-oil streams needed extra effort before they could reach the market or end user to make it flow in pipelines for longer distances and to remove sulphur. There was also the need for heavy crude oil to be heated, treated, upgraded or blended prior to transport or shipment to customers, which could increase project costs significantly.
Mr Lakani said: “As a result, heavy-oil accumulations were only developed in onshore environments in the past, however, recent developments in technology and changing investor attitudes have generated considerable interest in offshore heavy-oil developments.”
Norman Hessler, of Shell, said that for years the company had been trying to get a heavy viscous-oil discovery off the ground, and now a viable project was within its grasp. He said tracking down information on 1970s discovery wells required persistence and seismically it was hard to differentiate between oil and water because there was no density contrast.
He added that using conventional techniques, it was never easy to get reliable measurements on oil properties, while viscosity was also often the subject of erroneous measurements.