NAM Looks at Redeveloping Schoonebeek Field

NAM is working on plans for the possible redevelopment of the Schoonebeek oilfield in the Netherlands. In the light of recent publications and the start of the necessary EIR procedure, among other things, we think it opportune to publish further information on how the project is progressing, giving more details of what is involved.

The study being conducted by NAM indicates that the redevelopment of the field should be technically feasible. NAM is currently studying the financial aspects and the economic feasibility of a possible resumption of oil production. A final decision on whether to go ahead with the necessary investment is expected in 2005, depending on the outcome of the economic evaluation and the successful completion of planning procedures.

It was 1996 when NAM decided to halt production from the Schoonebeek field because it had ceased to be worthwhile extracting the heavy, highly viscous crude using existing technology. During a production life of almost 50 years, NAM had extracted approximately a quarter (around 250 million barrels) of the oil originally in place.

Using new technology, it should be possible to produce around another 100 million barrels of oil from the field. That would mean extracting over one-third of the oil originally present. In view of the high viscosity of the Schoonebeek crude and the complex geological structure of the field, that would be a most creditable achievement.

The method which NAM might employ to produce more oil involves a combination of horizontal wells at a depth of around 600–800 meters and low-pressure steam injection. This technology has been used with good results on similar oil fields in other parts of the world, for example in the United States by Aera Energy (another Shell/ExxonMobil joint venture).

The plan is to drill a total of around 60 wells – approximately 20 for steam injection and 40 production wells – spread across about 20 new locations. A treatment installation to separate the crude from the co-produced formation water will also be necessary, along with a combined heat and power station (CHP plant) which will generate the required steam. The feedwater for this plant will be taken from the waste water treatment plant near Nieuw Amsterdam, so that groundwater extraction will not be necessary.

The crude produced will then be transported by pipeline to the nearby BP refinery in Lingen, Germany. That will be considerably more efficient than carrying the oil by train to the Shell and Esso refineries in the Botlek region, as was done up to 1966.

Another difference compared with oil production in the past concerns the pumps that will be used to lift the oil in any new production scheme. There will be no return to the nodding donkeys of yesteryear. It is proposed to use a more efficient modern type of pump. There are also no plans for NAM to reopen its Schoonebeek office.

NAM has submitted the possible schemes to the Drenthe Provincial Executive and to the local councils in the municipalities of Emmen and Coevorden. If the plans get the go-ahead, a start could be made with the construction of the necessary facilities in 2006. NAM also recently commenced the procedures for obtaining the necessary permits by submitting the EIR (environmental impact report) procedure starting notice.

NAM has kept in mind the principle of sustainable development in connection with this project – hence the decision in favor of a CHP plant and the use of effluent from the waste water treatment plant for feedwater. Even the preferred location for the treatment installation has been selected with sustainability in mind. NAM attaches great importance to acceptance of the project in the surrounding area. The company therefore polled the views of various bodies and groups, such as nature and environmental organizations, at an early stage to gauge their response to the plans. Initial reactions have been positive. NAM will, of course, be continuing the dialogue with all stakeholders as the plans are firmed up.

The project is expected to involve an investment in the order of 350 million euros. Construction and drilling activities will represent around 400 man-years of work. Calculations have shown that the indirect regional effect of the project will be to generate another approximately 1,500 man-years of work. In the operational phase (which is expected to last more than 20 years) the number of jobs involved in the ongoing operation and maintenance of the installations could be as many as around 50. If everything goes according to plan, oil could begin flowing again by the end of 2007.

Facts and figures for the Schoonebeek oilfield:

  • Discovered in 1943 by Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij, a Shell company at that time
  • production started by NAM (a specially formed 50-50 joint venture of Shell and Esso) in 1947
  • originally contained around 1 billion barrels, making the field a "giant oilfield" by world standards
  • around 250 million barrels produced up to 1996
  • original number of well locations around 450, 92% of which have since been vacated and the sites reinstated
  • original number of wells (production and injection) around 600, 99% of which have since been removed

  • Schoonebeek oilfield redevelopment project dimensions:

  • approximately 60 wells to be drilled, comprising 40 production wells and 20 injection wells; drilling time per well approximately two weeks; approximately 20 well locations required
  • depth of horizontal wells: 600-800 meters
  • production by means of modern, high-efficiency pumps, standing around 15 meters tall, instead of nodding donkeys
  • treatment installation for separating oil and co-produced formation water, basically involving separation tanks; planned site on Kanaalweg (site of the former NAM oil treatment and loading installation) or near the existing S-313 gas production location on Katshaarweg
  • combined heat and power station (CHP plant) for generating the necessary steam for injection; capacity approximately 6,000-9,000 cubic meters per day; the CHP plant will also have an electricity generating capacity of 120-150 MW and will be able to sell this power on the electricity market
  • feedwater for steam generation sourced from waste water treatment plant near Nieuw Amsterdam; water requirement 6,000-10,000 cubic meters per day; using treatment plant effluent obviates the need for groundwater extraction and consequent lowering of local water table