Shell, TU Delft Join Forces in EOR Program

Shell International Exploration & Production B.V. and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) have started a joint research project called 'The Recovery Factory.' The project aims at developing solutions and innovative technologies that could help increase the amount of oil and gas that can be extracted from subsurface reservoirs. Staff from both Shell and TU Delft, including eight new PhD students, will be involved in the joint research program, which will initially run for six years.

On average for the industry, the recovery factor of reservoirs produced to date is only around 35% of the oil in place with the remainder trapped in the rock. With current technology, further exploitation is either too difficult or too expensive. The world's demand for energy continues to grow and it becomes increasingly difficult to find new fields that are 'easy' to produce. The current efforts in development of alternative energy sources will be insufficient to meet expected demand for the coming decades and hence increasing the recovery factor of currently producing reservoirs is essential to help safeguard the world's energy supply. An increase in the efficiency of global hydrocarbon recovery of just 1% would expand conventional oil reserves by 88 billion barrels, enough to replace three years of world production at the current rate (27 billion barrels per year)1, hence a major impact on global production.

The Recovery Factory programme aims to achieve this by combining new technology with traditional methods. The programme has two key components: 1) the application of measurement and control techniques (also known as Smart FieldsR technology), and 2) the injection of chemicals (e.g., polymers or CO2) to make oil more easily producible, a process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR).

Over the past decade, Shell and TU Delft have developed a leading position in Smart Fields technology. The Recovery Factory program will bring this to the next level by using fundamental understanding of the subsurface processes to achieve smart EOR.

Promising techniques include the use of sniffing sensors to detect chemical components in wells in combination with advanced computer models to control and optimise the process of subsurface oil and gas extraction. Another example of innovative technology is the combination of measurements from several data sources, including fibre optic sensors along the length of oil wells, permanent seismic sensors buried in the ground or resting at the bottom of the ocean, and even satellite sensors that remotely measure minute deformations of the Earth's surface.

Combining these different pieces of information into a mathematical model, instead of using only one or two of the individual measurement methods, provides better insight on the oil recovery processes, and allows improving them.

In Shell, the expertise in Smart Fields and EOR is concentrated in the Hydrocarbon Recovery Technologies team driving this new programme. Jeroen Regtien, Shell Vice-President, Hydrocarbon Recovery Techniques said, "The Recovery Factory project will combine the best of Shell's expertise with the strength of the Delft University to significantly advance our capability to enhance oil recovery through a combination of tools and techniques, some of which are new to the oil industry."

At Delft University of Technology three different faculties will contribute their unique expertise to the program: the Department of Geotechnology, the Delft Centre for Systems and Control, and the Delft Institute of Applied Mathematics.

Prof. Marco Waas (Dean of the Faculty Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering, and TU Delft account manager for Shell): "In this project both TU Delft and Shell bring in world-leading researchers in Systems and Control Theory, Mathematics, Geology and EOR to significantly increase recovery from the world's remaining oil and gas reservoirs. This type of advanced conventional energy exploitation forms an essential part of the TU Delft Energy Initiative aimed at a responsible transition to sustainable energy supply over the coming decades."

1 Oil & Gas Journal, Vol 105, 2007