SPE IOR: Chevron speaker says field trials still needed despite budget cuts, low oil prices

It’s crucial to continue field trials on emerging improved oil recovery technology despite the oil-price slump, Lee S. Mathis, Chevron Energy Technology Co. manager of IOR projects, told the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ Improved Oil Recovery conference in Tulsa.

“We don’t want to get in a bind because we slowed down and not be able to catch up in time,” Mathis said, adding it’s important to be ready for higher oil prices when the rebound comes. “We can do research and development, but we do need to take the technology to the field.”

The biennial IOR symposium, sponsored by the Mid-Continent Section of the SPE, involves petroleum scientists and oil and gas industry professionals focused on advancing knowledge and technology to improve and enhance oil and gas recovery.

Mathis also urged some of the 525 registered conference participants “to keep a clear line of sight between technology and asset-decision points.” Acknowledging industry’s budget cuts during times of lower oil prices, Mathis advocated that companies avoid diminishing the quality of its IOR work during difficult economic times.

Industry needs to maintain the discipline to do its core analysis the proper way during times of budget cuts, he said. Safety and environmental issues remain important for IOR project operators as well as educating the public about chemicals involved in IOR projects.

“As soon as somebody in the community hears the word chemicals and oil companies, they get nervous,” Mathis said, citing public concerns about possible water contamination from fracturing fluids.

Gary Pope, University of Texas at Austin petroleum professor, noted the best reservoir engineers have experience from their younger days when they worked experiments in laboratories.

“We have to have experimental labs staffed with people who know what they are doing,” Pope said, adding that applied industrywide and not just to IOR. “We have fewer laboratories now.”

Tom Thurmond, Breitburn Energy LLP senior vice-president of operations, said smaller producers currently are focusing on survival and “making one good decision at a time.”

He said enhanced oil recovery project profit margins have fallen 80-85% since 2014.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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