Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) has launched a new tender for the development of heavy oil sands, the first attempt to use the technique in the region.

KOC has given engineering contractors until 21 September to submit their proposals. The study, which involves building a test facility, is the precursor to substantial increases in heavy oil production in the country. Kuwait hopes heavy oil will constitute as much as 200,000 barrels a day (b/d) towards its 4 million b/d 2020 crude production capacity target.

The Lower Fars Test Project (LFTP) was first launched in 2007, a landmark development in the Gulf’s oil industry exploring the potential of removing solid – primarily sand – from heavy oil in the northern Ratqa field using a number of technologies (MEED 29:6:07).

The technique used will produced sand along with oil rather than filtering it in the well and then separating and disposing of it at the surface. This technique maximises crude and sand production rates. The method is common in both Canada and Venezuela where the world’s largest oil sands deposits are located.

The study, which involves building a test facility, is the precursor to substantial increases in heavy oil production

The winning contractor will design, build and operate a plant for five years, producing heavy oil with sand at wells in the Ratqa oil fields. The treated oil will then be transported along an existing pipeline. The test period will be carried out in two phases lasting a total of 42 months.

Although the amount of oil produced by the test facility is relatively small – only 10 to 50 barrels a day – analysts say the scheme is more interesting due to the technique and the fact that that KOC is testing heavy oil production for first time.

To move ahead with the technically challenging heavy oil production, Kuwait will need the help of international oil companies (IOCs).

“This is the first time this technique will be used in the region. KOC needs to get an IOC involved as Kuwait lacks experience”, says an independent consultant based in Kuwait.

KOC is slowly moving ahead with its plans. In September the state-producer is expected to release a tender for “consulting services for heavy oil organisation and manpower plan”.

The state-run producer has held talks with UK/Dutch Shell Group, France’s Total and the US’ ExxonMobil to develop the Kuwait’s heavy oil resources.