The ever-increasing need for fossil fuels from the developing nations has shifted industry focus to exploitation of unconventional oil resources. In view of this, ongoing programmes for exploration and production of heavy oil will be crucial in the global energy mix in coming generations.
With growing world population, the demand for crude oil is predicted to increase by nearly 17% over the next 15 years. Seemingly, prospective development of oil industry are connected with the development of heavy oil, extra-heavy oil and bitumen fields, which amounts to nearly 70% of the world’s total oil resources of 9 to 13 trillion barrels.
Heavy oil presents significant challenges in production due to extremely difficult recovery conditions. They are not recoverable by conventional production methods. With advanced technology many heavy-oil reservoirs, which are found in more than thirty countries around the globe, can now be exploited largely.
There is no universal method for the evaluation and recovery of heavy oil; it is majorly determined by the pressure and temperature conditions of the heavy-oil reservoir. In some cases, the recovery factor is found to be as high as 70%.
Advanced extraction techniques and technologies utilized, specifically enhanced oil recovery (EOR), have greatly improved the recovery factor. EOR is an advanced extraction technique which uses majorly gas injection, heat injection, and chemical injection including smart water injection. This combination could unlock 300 billion barrels of oil or more by some estimates. However, extensive research and development in exploration techniques is needed for its commercial feasibility.
Venezuela in South America is known to possess the largest accumulation of heavy oil reserves of 1.2 trillion barrels. Other countries noted for heavy oil deposits are Canada, the US, Russia, Brazil, and China.
The Middle East region has risen in heavy oil extraction in the last two to three years. It is said to contain 970 billion barrels of discovered heavy, and mostly undeveloped extra heavy crudes.
Despite the deteriorating financial backdrop, spending on oil & gas projects in the ME region has been well above average. Saudi Arabia has maintained a high level of oil production at above 10 million barrels per day for most of 2015 and in first quarter of 2016.
The oil companies in the region are looking to implement hybrid EOR method, which seems to be ideal for the carbonate reservoirs which constitute a high proportion of its oil bearing reservoirs.
These are trying times for exploration and production firms; nevertheless, the enormity and longevity of heavy-oil reserves presents a tantalising prospect for investments with stellar returns in the long run.