Given its abundance of conventional reservoirs, the Gulf is not well known for enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

As fields mature, there is growing interest in improving the recovery of oil from many of the large and well-established fields. But with oil prices sitting at more than $100 a barrel, their economies have found themselves awash with oil revenues. The economics of EOR have become suddenly more attractive.

With its oil fields geologically complex and now in their twilight years, Oman has led the way, investing in a range of EOR technologies. Its success has been encouraging for the region. Between 2001 and 2007 Oman’s oil production fell by 27 per cent, but by 2009, due mostly to EOR projects, oil production had increased by 17 per cent reversing the sultanate’s production decline. By 2012, Oman could be producing between 250,000 and 300,000 barrels a day using EOR methods.

It is hardly surprising that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, has been slow to take on EOR techniques. The kingdom is currently evaluating the use of carbon dioxide injection methods and plans a series of pilot programmes in mature fields, such as Ghawar, by 2012. Full-scale implementation of such techniques is still 20-30 years away.

For all its benefits, EOR is a complex and costly undertaking. It can take between five and 10 years before the increased production offsets additional cost and requires the careful integration of surface and subsurface technology. The careful selection of the right method of extraction for any particular field is also crucially important.

EOR in the Middle East presents plenty of challenges for national oil companies, and opportunities for international partners.