From Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin (www.beg.utexas.edu).
For more information, please contact the author.

West Texas Geological Society Keynote LunchTalk, Midland, October 27, 2005

Beyond EOR: the West Texas Energy Future

Scott W. Tinker

The Permian Basin has a rich history of oil production. Even after primary, secondary, and in some cases, tertiary recovery processes, as much as 50% or more of original oil in place will be left behind in many complex carbonate reservoirs. Although West Texas is well positioned for growth in wind, solar, geothermal, and other emerging energy sources, a very significant oil target remains there.

West Texas has extensive energy infrastructure—wells, pipelines, processing, compression, CO2 separation, oilfield services—and the know-how of a skilled, motivated, and educated workforce. A century-old entrepreneurial spirit permeates the region, and rather than the “not-in-my-backyard” attitude that pervades many areas of the country, the back yard is wide open in West Texas.

Although wireline logs, cores, seismic, and production data have continued to advance and provide a very detailed picture of the subsurface, the direct measurement of the interwell space is still quite limited, and 3D and 4D understanding is largely inferred. What, if anything, will allow improved understanding of the interwell space and ultimately economic access to the remaining oil reserves?

Based on technology developed largely by other industries, the potential to inject micro- and even nano-sensors into the subsurface exists today. Measurement of chemical, thermal, and pressure characteristics in 3D and real time in the subsurface may not be far beyond the horizon. These data could provide a complete new class of data, analogous to the impact that seismic and wireline logs had in terms of improved understanding. Such understanding would, with a bit of invention so characteristic of West Texas, undoubtedly lead to the economic advanced oil recovery (AOR) of currently uneconomic resources, ushering in another wave of activity in the Permian Basin.