Bureau researchers Steve Ruppel and Bob Loucks were awarded a Department of Energy (DOE) contract for their proposal titled "Reviving Abandoned Reservoirs with High Pressure Air Injection: Application in a Fractured and Karsted Dolomite Reservoir." The project, which focuses on the University Lands Barnhart Ellenburger reservoir in West Texas, will combine state-of-the-art characterization and modeling of karst features and fractures with new advanced oil recovery technology and high pressure air injection to devise new strategies for recovering the large volume of oil that remains in this nearly abandoned oil field. Also involved in the project are Bureau researchers Steve Laubach, Julia Gale, Fred Wang, and Jeff Kane. Jon Olsen and Jon Holder, both with the Center for Petroleum and Geosystems engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, will also be involved in the project.

Goldrus Producing Company, the Bureau's industry partner in the project, will test the Bureau's research findings by drilling vertical and horizontal wells to implement the technology. DOE will provide $1,091,805 of the total project budget of $3,962,730, of which the Bureau will receive $541,805. This award will continue the Bureau's current involvement in characterization of the Barnhart field that is being funded by the University of Texas System as part of the University Lands Advanced Recovery Project.


Reviving Abandoned Reservoirs with High Pressure Air Injection:
Application in a Fractured and Karsted Dolomite Reservoir

Dr. Stephen C. Ruppel and Dr. Robert G. Loucks
Bureau of Economic Geology
The University of Texas at Austin

Despite declining production rates, existing reservoirs in the United States contain huge volumes of remaining oil that is not being effectively recovered. This oil resource constitutes a huge target for the development and application of modern, cost-effective technologies for producing oil. Chief among the barriers to the recovery of this oil are the high costs of designing and implementing conventional advanced recovery technologies in these mature, in many cases pressure-depleted reservoirs. An additional, increasingly significant barrier is the lack of vital technical expertise that is necessary for the application of these technologies. This lack of expertise is especially notable among the small operators and independents that operate many of these mature, yet oil-rich reservoirs. We propose to address these barriers to more effective oil recovery by developing, testing, applying, and documenting an innovative technology that, when proven, can be used by even the smallest operator to significantly increase the flow of oil from mature U.S. reservoirs.

The Bureau of Economic Geology and Goldrus Producing Company have assembled a multidisciplinary team of geoscientists and engineers to evaluate the applicability of high-pressure air injection (HPAI) in revitalizing a nearly abandoned carbonate reservoir in the Permian Basin of West Texas. The Permian Basin, the largest oil-bearing basin in North America, contains more than 70 billion barrels of remaining oil-in-place and is an ideal venue to validate this technology. We have already demonstrated the potential of HPAI for oil recovery improved in preliminary laboratory tests and a reservoir pilot project. To more completely test the technology, this project will combine a detailed characterization of reservoir properties with a field demonstration and monitoring program to fully access the effectiveness and economics of HPAI.

The characterization phase of the project will utilize geoscientists and petroleum engineers from the Bureau of Economic Geology and the Department of Petroleum Engineering, both at The University of Texas at Austin, to define the controls on fluid flow in the reservoir as a basis for developing a reservoir model. This model will be used to define a field deployment plan that Goldrus, a small independent oil company, will implement by drilling both vertical and horizontal wells during the demonstration phase of the project. Additional reservoir data will be gathered during the demonstration phase to improve the accuracy of the reservoir model The results of the demonstration will be closely monitored to provide a basis for improving the design of the HPAI field deployment plan. The results of the reservoir characterization field demonstration and monitoring program will be documented and widely disseminated to facilitate adoption of this technology by oil operators in the Permian Basin and elsewhere in the U.S.

The successful development of high pressure air injection technology has tremendous potential for increasing the flow of oil from deep carbonate reservoirs in the Permian Basin, a target resource that can be conservatively estimated at more than 1.5 billion barrels. Successful implementation in the field chosen for demonstration, for example, could result in the recovery of more than 34 million barrels of oil that will not otherwise be recovered.

Point of Contact: Dr. Robert Loucks, 512-471-0366, bob.loucks@beg.utexas.edu or
Dr. Stephen Ruppel, 512-471-2965, stephen.ruppel@beg.utexas.edu