With $50 oil seen as the “new normal”, adding extra costs to North Sea projects may seem like an unnecessary extravagance.
But when the ‘added extra’ could help deliver more barrels of oil and lower lifting costs, it may seem more attractive.
That is what the audience at the Oil and Gas Authority’s Tehcnology Forum was told yesterday during a talk on enhanced oil recovery (EOR).
In late 2016 a giant industry taskgroup was set up with BP, Chevron, Shell and Statoil to combine their knowledge of polymer enhanced oil recovery.
There lessons learned will be shared across industry ahead of the November closing of the 30th licensing round, when operators will have the chance to grab extra acreage.
But the technique, which involves using a chemical to reduce tension between oil and water to release hydrocarbons from reservoir rock, is not without its difficulties.
Richard Hinkley, general manager for projects and future growth a Chevron North Sea, said operators must weigh up the lengthy technological roadmap for the process against the gains.
Mr Hinkley said: “If you are looking at EOR there is a prize out there – it is around 5% incremental recovery.
“For the small pools that are out there for the 30th licensing round, there is the technology here to add some incremental and it could be the difference being something we are interested in or something that we are not.
“Polymer EOR has been around along time but it hasn’t had widespread application here in the UK
“When you consider EOR in a late life setting, you have fixed infrastructure operating costs. If you can add incremental barrels for the cost of a polymer you are able to get more oil and it will lower your costs on a dollar per barrel basis.
“When it comes to EOR, the time to start thinking about it is now – early in life. Then you can plan for it and then you can ensure you have all the facilities and competencies in place to executive these projects.
He added: “But there are some conditions that make it challenging to use polymer in the UK.
“Polymer subsea is a challenge. When you start to inject polymer through a choke you lose the viscosity. but there are technologies out there like delayed action polymers for example.
“You start early, you can plan for it, and you can consider EOR for your field development plan.”
OGA guidelines say that up to 250million barrels could be recovered through EOR.
Several operators are also considering it to extend field life, like Chevron’s Captain asset, Statoil’s Mariner and BP’s Quad 204.