Wintershall Ups Germany's Crude Oil Production

Wintershall is investing in crude oil production in Germany. Germany's largest producer of crude oil and natural gas will drill four wells in Emlichheim in Lower Saxony alone by autumn 2008. After that the existing crude oil field in Aitingen south of Augsburg will be expanded by another exploration well. Thus the wholly owned BASF subsidiary is investing further in domestic crude oil production.

"Although the proportion of crude oil consumption produced in Germany is comparatively small -- at 3.7 million tons, domestic production covers just 3 percent of demand in Germany -- any production 'on one's own doorstep' increases supply security," said Dr. Ties Tiessen, Member of the Board of Executive Directors of Wintershall Holding AG responsible for Production, explained.

Wintershall has been producing crude oil in Emlichheim, near the German-Dutch border, for more than 60 years. The oil field there is one of the oldest deposits in Germany. The Bavarian field Aitingen south of Augsburg currently produces around 36,000 tons of crude oil and is thus the largest oil production operation in the pre-Alpine region.

The production volume in Emlichheim is currently around 140,000 tons per year. Overall oil is produced from 14 individual crude oil fields there -- so-called blocks. These blocks extend over about four square kilometers underground. The aim of the new wells is to improve the development of existing deposits. One well was already sunk this year and in the late summer concession holder Wintershall will start drilling two more wells together with its partner Exxon Mobil Deutschland. In addition, one of the existing production wells will now also be drilled horizontally. The well reaches a depth of about 800 meters, but the horizontal drilling begins at a depth of about 500 meters. Overall the well is 1,300 meters long. So far about ten percent of the crude oil in the block was recovered. But with the deployment of steam flooding technology and the horizontal drilling of the well, a production rate, the so-called ultimate recovery factor, of over 40 percent is in sight.

Hard on the Heels of Crude Oil

Wintershall has been harnessing steam flooding technology in Emlichheim for 25 years now -- and has thus continuously maintained the high production level of about 140,000 tons of crude oil per year, enough to heat about 42,000 houses for a year. Furthermore, Emlichheim will continue to contribute to Germany’s supply of crude oil for the next 20 to 25 years based on today’s calculations.

Emlichheim is well past the stage of primary production, during which the oil more or less flows into the production operation’s pipelines by itself. Secondary production, when production is enhanced by means of additional water pressure, has also been completed. Since the crude oil in Emlichheim is very viscous and firmly embedded in the rock pores, steam flooding technology will now be used for tertiary production. During this process steam with a temperature of approximately 300 degrees is pressed into the deposit at a pressure of approximately 100 bar. The crude oil in the porous rock becomes warm and less viscous and is easier to pump to the surface. Wintershall has been successfully applying this sophisticated production technique in Emlichheim for more than 25 years now. Combining the steam flooding technology with another production-enhancing technique, horizontal drilling, was particularly challenging for the engineers, technicians and geologists.

Innovative technologies of this type are becoming increasingly important in oil and gas production. "They can be used to significantly prolong the life of existing, older oil fields," Wintershall Executive Board Member Dr. Ties Tiessen explained. On average about a third of the deposits in oil fields worldwide are recovered; the rest of the oil remains in the rock pores. But with steam flooding technology the ultimate recovery factor of a deposit can be increased to up to 50 percent. For this reason, according to experts at the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, in future the sustained utilization and production of existing resources will play an important role alongside the search for new fields. "Wintershall is willing to invest more in the latest technologies in order to extend the production time of existing older fields," the Wintershall Board Member emphasized.

Production in Germany Enhances Technological Know-How

The oil and gas fields in Germany are not easy to develop because of the difficult geological conditions. Production in Germany is technologically more demanding than production abroad, and often only possible with considerable additional expenditure and special techniques. "A higher average price for crude oil certainly has a positive impact on exploration and production activities in Germany," Dr. Tiessen said. "Projects become more economically viable and existing fields can be exploited for longer. A higher market price also gives us the opportunity to invest more in Germany – for example, in the use of state-of-the-art technology." The know-how that Wintershall acquires in its exploration and production activities in Germany enhances its technical competence and is incorporated into international projects. That makes the company a sought-after partner for other companies in E&P (Exploration & Production).

Each year more than three million tons of crude oil are produced in Germany (2007: 3.4 million tons). That equals about three percent of Germany’s overall oil consumption. Wintershall is responsible for a large part of total production in Germany: for example, the company is involved in production at Germany’s largest crude oil deposit, Mittelplate, in which Wintershall and RWE Dea each have a 50 percent share. With more than two million tons of crude oil a year, the Mittelplate deposit off the German North Sea coast at the southern end of the Wadden Sea tidal flats National Park in the state of Schleswig-Holstein accounts for almost two thirds of the total production in Germany. Wintershall produces oil in Germany from overall 15 oil fields and is the operator in seven of them. The company is also active in natural gas production in Germany. The BASF subsidiary produces natural gas from about 40 gas fields in Germany, operating about ten of these fields itself. Annual consumption of natural gas in Germany is about 100 billion cubic meters and domestic production accounts for about 20 percent.