Thermal Oil Recovery: Current State and Future Prospects

development of thermal oil recovery techniques

Once a well has produced what it can via primary and secondary withdrawal methods, it’s time to move to enhanced oil recovery solutions and methods. This method also gets referred to as tertiary recovery methods and using them extracts between 30 to 60 percent of a reservoir’s original oil in place.

Enhanced Oil Recovery

Move to enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods after having exhausted the primary and secondary techniques. Use production methods in the following order:

different enhanced oil recovery methods

  1. Primary: Primary means use gravity or the reservoir’s natural pressure to drive oil into the wellbore. These combine with artificial lift techniques like pumps to raise the oil to surface level. This results in the extraction of about 10 percent of a reservoir’s total oil reserves.
  2. Secondary: Secondary means use injection methods to displace oil. Either gas or water forced into the reservoir drives the oil into the wellbore. Combined with artificial lift techniques, this results in the extraction of about 20 to 40 percent of a reservoir’s total oil reserves.
  3. Enhanced: Enhanced or tertiary means use an injection of chemicals, gas or heat/steam to displace the oil, driving it up to the wellbore. Heat and steam comprise two of the thermal oil recovery methods. Using these methods enables the withdrawal of 30 to 60 percent of a reservoir’s total oil reserves.

Thermal Oil Recovery

While chemical techniques account for only about one percent of enhanced US production, gas injection comprises about 60 percent and thermal recovery accounts for 40 percent. Some production fields use more than one method, so the percentage equals greater than 100 percent.

California primarily uses thermal recovery. The injected steam lowers the viscosity of the oil, improving its ability to flow through the reservoir. Although all of the enhanced methods carry high costs, they remain the best available methods by which to continue well production.

Thermal methods work best in shallow oil wells, using cyclic steam stimulation (CSS) or steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). They help increase and ease flow in oil sands. They’ve proven effective in fields in Canada, China, Indonesia, Oman, United States, and Venezuela.

Future of Thermal Oil Recovery

The future of thermal oil recovery centers on the thermal oil sands techniques and solar EOR. Thermal oil sands experienced expansion in 2015 and 2016, primarily in use in Canada. SAGD is now used in 75 percent of projects. While Chinese investments have slowed, and oil prices fluctuate, Canada alone has more than 160 projects under construction using the method.

The newest development in thermal, solar EOR uses solar panels to create the heat to produce steam. Canada also produces the best market for solar application. Thermal’s use in the US has declined. China, Indonesia, and Oman will continue to use the method in the coming decade.

Thermal continues as a go-to method for extracting oil reserves. It will continue to top the list of methods used to continue production after primary and secondary means have produced what they can.

Can Enhanced Oil Recovery Produce More Oil Output than Fracking

how enhanced oil recovery can produce more oil output

The Need for Fracking and Enhanced Oil Recovery

Oil is considered the most important fuel for energy and transportation needs around the globe, so enhanced oil recovery vs fracking is a hot topic of conversation for oil industry investors.

In the United States, oil fields tapped out by conventional drilling methods are still laden with extensive amounts of oil trapped in the shale. Producing more oil output could only be achieved with innovative techniques to release this trapped oil from existing wells.

Fracking has been used for years to extract the hard to reach oil and enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is quickly becoming a promising route for producing more oil output than fracking.

What are the differences between the two methods?

The Fracking Process

Fracking uses water and chemicals forced into rock formations under high pressure to crack the rock, release the trapped oil, and push it to the surface.

what is hydraulic fracturing and how does the process work

Fracking has proven to be a huge success that has brought the price of petroleum and resulting petroleum products down.

The fracking industry has become cost-effective for delivering higher outputs of oil. However, many critics question the extreme water usage and environmental pollution associated with fracking.

Enhanced Oil Recovery

The enhanced recovery idea has been around a long time but was not financially viable until now.

EOR encompasses the newest techniques used in the oil industry for producing more oil output by using methods such as pumping carbon dioxide (CO2) into existing oil wells to release trapped oil from rock formations and extend well productivity.

The CO2 acts like a lubricant and releases an impressive amount of oil that even fracking can’t reach. Oil fields in New Mexico and Texas are currently profiting from this method, with plans to tap existing fields across the country soon.

The Benefits of EOR

The benefits of enhanced oil recovery vs fracking are the highlight of the use of steam, CO2, water, or other fluids instead of a chemical/water mixture to release trapped oil.

Existing oil well projects as well as the production skyrockets, sometimes bringing up more oil than during initial drilling.

CO2-based EOR is a preferred method that offers the reward of trapping CO2 underground during the process. Reducing CO2 levels from our air and sealing it within the earth’s surface keeps global-warming activists quiet.

Another enhanced recovery process is the use of de-watering technology that turns water soaked oil into the clean water for human or agricultural use, lowering industry pollution further.

Is Fracking on its Way Out?

EOR could produce up to 4 million additional barrels per day in the United States alone. As the use of these new oil recovery methods spread, more output is expected to add to our crude oil reserves.

how the negative environmental effect of fracking is benefiting eor

The success of fracking will keep it in favor for many years, but the overall lessened environmental impact paired with heightened oil recovery will make enhanced oil recovery solutions a favorite as their benefits outperform traditional fracking methods.

Why Oil Drilling Companies Depend on EOR Recovery Steam Generators

benefits of eor steam generators for oil drilling companies

In the recent past, oil companies have increasingly produced heavy oil. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that about 70% of the current remaining reserves are being drilled for oil exploration. However, heavy oil is also becoming abundant, and its thick—like tar has also become difficult to extract. This brings to light the use and application of Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) generators and their drilling methods.

Enhanced Oil Recovery is an oil extracting method where steam is injected into the oil reservoirs hence making it easier for a pump to pump the oil to the surface. Unlike other oil extracting methods, EOR is more advanced. The notion behind this argument is based on the fact that it becomes easier for oil drilling companies to extract quality crude oil.

As a way of enhancing a compelling production of oil, generators used in EOR are usually connected to a feed water system, power supply, and fuel supply. The following are some of the advantages of using EOR as compared to other oil extracting methods.

Higher Productivity

The EOR system uses steam to enhance oil production. Thanks to this steam injection, well productivity is boosted to levels of up to 300%. This, in turn, correlates to an increase in oil production from wells that could have produced a low level of oil. Apart from this, EOR can extract about 30% to 60% of more oil reserve as compared to 30% extracted using both primary and secondary oil recovery methods.

how to boost your productivity regarding oil production

Oil Extracted from Hard to Reach Surfaces

A significant advantage of EOR is the fact that it used to extract oil from areas that would have been hard to extract in the first place. With this in mind, more oil is extracted, which correlates to an increase in capital.

More Capital Raised

It is estimated that onshore enhanced oil recovery process pays about $10-16 per ton of the CO2 injected for oil prices in ranges of $15-20 per barrel. This indicates an increase in oil production at pocket-friendly prices. Apart from this, there is a clear indication that high levels of oil recovery are achieved while drilling and production costs are kept at low levels.

Zero Hardness

Enhanced oil recovery steam generators have a high total of dissolved contents and handle zero hardness of feed water.

More Success in Oil Drilling

EOR steam generators have the greatest rates of success in an estimated 70% of the total heavy oil fields globally. This is a clear indication that more drilling companies are dependent on EOR as compared to other oil drilling methods and generators.

Easy to Achieve Load Cycles

EOR steam generators are easy to set up, as well as load drilling, and steaming cycles. The underlying advantage is the fact that it becomes easy and faster for companies to extract more oil while maintaining simplified cycles and achieving high-end results.

Gas Reduction

EOR steam generators operate on gas. With an EOR generator, it is estimated that up to 80% of gas is saved as compared to using other methods of oil extraction. The saved gas can be used in high-value applications such as in electricity generation, industrial development, desalination, and its exportation as LPG.

Zero Steam Emission

producing zero emissions through eor steam generators

Enhanced oil recovery generators have a zero emission of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide associated with fuel combustion. The quality of air in areas where EOR generators are used are well maintained as compared to areas where other methods of oil drilling are used. This, on the other hand, indicates a low level of pollution, and a reduction in global warming associated with air pollution.

EOR Generators can be used in Steam Flooding Recovery

Steam flooding, or steam injection, is a crude oil extraction method, where steam generated at the surface is directly injected into an oil reservoir via evenly distributed wells. When the steam enters the oil reservoir, it heats the crude oil hence reducing its viscosity. EOR generators simplify the steam flooding process as well as promote cyclic steam stimulation. This, in turn, enhances the production of oil.

Reduced Land Use Impacts

Since EOR generators transport carbon dioxide through underground pipelines, the extent at which land is used is reduced. The underlying advantage of using underground pipes to transport carbon dioxide is the fact that instances of environmental destruction are reduced. Apart from this, land that could have been occupied by the pipes is used to support generators and the drilling company in general.

How to Increase Well Production with Enhanced Oil Recovery

how to increase well production with enhanced oil recovery

Oil reserves are a valuable asset that simply makes landowners super rich. However, the oil that they yield serves to power the national economy and benefit millions. Owing to the fact that most oil wells from the past were harnessed only up to 25 percent of their potential, owners of oil rights desire to sell their rights only to wells that can harness the entire potential of their reserves. Oil firms also go through a lot of trouble in ensuring that they drain oil reserves dry. They must maximize on the technical and legal investments that they make in setting up oil wells. In fact, their representatives must explain the thoroughness of their process when pitching to rights owners. Therefore, they must understand enhanced oil recovery comprehensively and represent wells that place emphasis on investing in EOR technologies.


Enhanced Oil Recovery

The US Department of Energy reports that primary and secondary oil recovery phases account for only 25 percent of oil production. Whereas enhanced oil technology can ultimately replace the two oil recovery methods and harness 100 percent of a reserve’s potential, it mostly comes as a tertiary measure. That is because the primary and secondary oil recovery methods are largely inexpensive compared to EOR well costs. This method works by increasing pressure in the reserves for enhanced displacement.

maximize oil extraction capacity with enhanced oil recovery technologies


The Three Types

This comprehensive method of oil recovery is practiced in three different designs:

  • Chemical flooding.
  • Gas injection.
  • Thermal recovery.

It is important to note that oil wells do no employ the three designs interchangeably. Careful and detailed research must be done regarding the oil reserve and how it is structured geographically. The implications affect the economic cost efficiency and determine which, if any, of the designs, should be deployed to increase recovery.


Thermal Recovery

Sometimes, the oil becomes too viscous after significant recovery. That affects displacement and leads to reduced recovery. The thermal enhanced oil recovery introduces heat inside of the reservoir by applying steam. The increased heat ultimately thins the oil and enhances the displacement needed for optimal recovery. Thermal enhanced oil recovery was first applied in 1961 in Venezuela. Its productivity and cost-efficiency led to its popularity. It accounts for about 54 percent of the oil harnessed through enhanced oil recovery.


Gas Injection

This method is great because it operates with a duality of physical science. It involves technicians injecting natural gases into a reservoir. Nitrogen and carbon dioxide are the most favorable natural gases because they absorb into the oil most easily. Apart from reducing the viscosity of the oil, either of the gases is injected under high pressure to enhance displacement. The two gases often expand robustly when they can’t dissolve into the raw oil. That ultimately increases recovery.

the process of oil extraction with gas injection


Industrial processes are profusely producing carbon-dioxide and polluting the ozone layer. That is the reason why it is increasingly gaining favor over hydrogen in the gas injection. Ultimately, environmentalists are championing for oil wells to but waste carbon-dioxide from firms that are most responsible for its pollution. The United States developed this technology, and it enjoys heavy environmental and economic benefits from using the gas pollutant to increase its energy production.


Chemical Injection

This method is only great for increasing the efficiency of flooding techniques. The method is rarely used, and it used where some oil reserves are trapped. During the flooding, scientists introduce chemicals that reduce the surface tension of the oil. Other surfactants may be used as well. The oil becomes less viscous and that improves the rate of its displacement. The chemicals injected are polymers.


Parting Shot

All the parties that are involved in the exploitation of oil rights deserve to reap the full benefits of a reserve. That means that recovery should be enhanced and harnessed up to the full potential of a reserve. However, some companies do not have the equipment or expertise to harness the entire potential of a reserve. Some companies use multiple tertiary oil recovery methods to be completely thorough. Do not enter into agreements with companies that are crazed with the returns of recovering less than 40 percent of your oil reserve. That will only make it exceedingly expensive for another company to set up another oil well. You should always inquire about the assets and methods used by oil firms in their recovery processes.


International Petroleum Technology Conference Brief:

Founded in 2005, it is the flagship multidisciplinary event in the Eastern Hemisphere.

IPTC is sponsored by four industry organizations and societies, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG); the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE); the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG); and the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE).

IPTC is focused on the dissemination of new and current technology, best practices and multi-disciplinary activities designed to emphasize the importance of the value chain and maximizing asset value.

For more information visit the IPTC website.


Nakasawa Mining and Energy Ltd., (“Nakasawa”), held an unveiling ceremony in the final quarter of 2017 at their China-based manufacturing facilities. Nakasawa’s flagship (EOR) Enhanced Oil Recovery Steam Generator System, the NK-30TTS. This unveiling is a culmination of efforts that have spanned over 12 months since the project officially commenced in early 2016.

The NK-30TTS is the latest from Nakasawa in their line of EOR Steam Generators, the 25MMBTU/h steam generator meets and exceeds all industry standard requisites for pressure vessels and power boilers, and has been presented with the ASME BPVC (U), and (S) certification stamps of approval. The NK-30 thermal technology system can be acquired individually but, are usually coupled with a water treatment plant trailer, and office trailer with a fully furnished workspace for the operators of the equipment. With the NK-30TTS unveiling an exhibition of Nakasawa’s China-based super-factory production line, capable of fabricating 30 units of equipment per fiscal quarter; Nakasawa intends to create positive momentum in the Latin American upstream oil and gas industry.

NK-30TTS (Design 1800 PSIG) Data:

  • Total Duty per Heater: 25 MMBTU/h
  • Heater Section: Natural Gas/Diesel
  • Service: Vapor
  • Fluid Name: Wate
  • Mass Flow Rate: lb/h 25,000
  • Volumetric Flow Rate: gpm 50

Inlet Conditions:

  • Temperature: °F 90
  • Pressure: psig 2,065
  • Liquid Flow: lb/h 25,000
  • Vapor Flow: lb/h 0

Outlet Conditions:

  • Temperature: °F 623 F @ 1815 psig
  • Pressure: psig 1,815
  • Liquid Flow: lb/h 4,500
  • Vapor Flow: lb/h 20,500
  • Steam Quality: 82

About Nakasawa Mining & Energy Ltd.

Nakasawa designs, engineers, constructs and delivers heavy equipment to global markets for enhanced oil recovery in heavy oil plays. The company is comprised of four business divisions; design and engineering, manufacturing, installations, and the start-up and commissioning of facilities and operating units. Headquartered in Panama City, Panama the company holds additional offices in Miami, Florida and in Shangdong, China.