Some of the world’s largest reserves are heavy oil reservoirs. With oil in place equal to the largest conventional oil fields in the Middle East, these large reserves are found in more than thirty countries around the globe, but few of these deposits have been developed extensively. The significant operating investment in recovering heavy oil necessitates a high oil price to financially justify heavy oil operations.
The main challenge in heavy oil is not in finding resources, but in extracting, recovering, producing, and selling heavy crudes within often changing economic guidelines. Under stable market conditions, heavy oil assets have the potential to generate many years of steady cash flow, typically producing for more than 50 years. However, when the energy ratio needed to produce and upgrade a barrel of heavy oil can be as high as 40%, balancing economics throughout the project is a challenge.
Heavy oil production often consists of abrasive solids and corrosive gasses. In addition, technologies operating in heavy oil have to be conscious of the operating costs and long-term economics of heavy oil development. Drilling technology challenges for heavy oil range from wellbore stability in shallow, unconsolidated sands to high dogleg severity and narrow in-zone windows for SAGD wells. Completion and evaluation technologies face similar issues and additionally may have to confront high temperatures associated with thermal recovery.
Heavy oil recovery is unlike conventional oil. Generally, heavy oil targets are known with depths identified and a general idea of the API gravity. Field development plans need to plot out a target by target production strategy.
The accurate placement and construction quality of various well types - producers, injectors, and monitors - is particularly important given the long expect operational life of these assets.
Holistic project planning practices can maximize a project’s value through its entire lifecycle, from appraisal through to operations and eventual disposal.
Ongoing operational optimization is only possible if there are adequate systems of data management. These systems deliver information that enables both the geologic and reservoir models to be updated and planned production to be maintained.