In numbers

$100m: Cost of a tendered oil recovery carbon dioxide injection plant at Ghawar oil field

4.5 million b/d: Amount of saltwater injected into the Khurais oil field to aid oil recovery

Source: MEED

In the past, Saudi Arabia said its oil fields did not require the use of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques. The state-owned Saudi Aramco is responsible for all of the kingdom’s hydrocarbons assets and has several super-giant fields in its portfolio.

Saudi Arabia has more than 260 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. Its giant fields contain proven reserves of 500 million barrels, while the super giant fields contain more than 5 billion barrels of oil.

It is the world’s largest oil exporter, responsible for exporting about 8 million barrels a day (b/d) of crude oil, just under 10 per cent of total global consumption. The kingdom also holds an emergency reserve production capacity of about 4 million b/d.

The light crude oil in Saudi Arabia’s fields is relatively easy to extract from the ground compared with heavier, more viscous grades of crude found elsewhere.

Although many of Aramco’s fields do not yet require extensive EOR technologies the company is still investing heavily in its reservoir management systems.

Oil extraction techniques

“While you see EOR techniques being implanted wholesale in Oman, most fields [in Saudi Arabia] are still some years away from the tertiary techniques such as steam and chemical injection,” says an executive from a major oilfield services company based in Saudi Arabia. “Still, there are a number of smaller-scale initiatives that are interesting.”

Daily crude production
(Millions of barrels per day)
2005 9.06
2006 8.91
2007 8.53
2008 8.92
2009 7.91
2010 9
2011* 8.2
*=As of April 2011. Source: Saudi Aramco

The onshore Ghawar field in the Eastern Province of the kingdom is the world’s largest oilfield. Ghawar has been responsible for 60-65 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s total output between 1948 and 2000.

“Ghawar is an oil producer’s dream field,” says the oilfield services executive. “With massive amounts of oil that is easy to extract and does not require too much processing.”

Its current production of 5 million b/d is more than 6 per cent of the global total and more than Kuwait and Iraq’s total combined production in 2009. While Aramco keeps details of its fields secret, it is estimated that about 70 billion barrels are still recoverable from the field. 

To do this, Aramco is planning to implement some enhanced oil recovery at Ghawar and is tendering a $100m carbon dioxide (CO2) injection plant.

The plant will be constructed at Uthmaniyah, the largest operational segment of the Ghawar field. The company is due to award the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) in the second quarter of 2010 with completion set for late 2013 or early 2014.

Saudi Arabia proven oil reserves
Billions of barrels
2005 261.7
2006 262.7
2007 262.7
2008 266.8
2009 264.3
2010 264.3
2011e 264.6
e=Estimate. Source: Saudia Aramco

The scope of works includes the construction of surface facilities that will enable Aramco to inject about 40 million cubic feet a day (cf/d) of CO2 into an area of the field flooded by water.

The project has been designed to not only increase the pressure in the field by injecting CO2 into it, but also as a means of carbon capture. About 50 per cent of the CO2 injected will remain in the field. “This is a key focus area in our carbon management technology road map,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud, the country’s assistant minister for petroleum affairs said when the project was first announced.

The project has generated a considerable amount of interest from contractors. About 14 EPC contractors have been bidding for it despite the dollar value being relatively small.

Oil production strategies in Saudi Arabia

“[Compared with the] money Aramco usually spends on projects, this isn’t on the same scale,” a source from one of the bidding EPC contractors says. “What is interesting to us is that it is one of the first high-profile, in-kingdom EOR projects and over the coming years this type of project will become both more common and higher in value.”

Aramco’s Exploration and Petroleum Engineering Centre (Expec) is where many of the strategies and technologies for maintaining oil production in the kingdom are formulated.

The Expec Advanced Research Centre (Expec ARC) is developing specialised technologies with the aim of increasing reservoir recovery from current levels of 50 per cent to 70 per cent in all of its major oilfields.

Expec ARC comprises six laboratory-based specialised technology teams, as well as full field support. The different teams conduct research either in-house or collaborate with suitable global technology companies.

One of the technologies that has been suggested is reservoir nano-scale robots called Resbots. The Resbots are intended to be deployed into a reservoir via fluids injected from facilities on the surface.

The robots could then record reservoir pressure, temperature and fluid type. The information would be stored in onboard memory that is then retrieved by technicians. The data would allow Aramco to manage the reservoir more effectively.

At present, effective reservoir management has led Aramco’s Petroleum Engineering and Development department to develop a billion-cell simulator that can create simulations of Ghawar and other giant fields within 24 hours.

The technology will help the US’ Halliburton which is currently executing a five-year drilling contract at Ghawar with the option of an additional five years if successful.  

Avenues of collaboration in the oil sector

The contract was awarded in late 2009. It is the first integrated turnkey drilling contract and is an important part of Saudi Aramco’s plan to explore new avenues of collaboration with major oil field services providers.

The deal also indicates Saudi Aramco is now turning towards increasing the technology it uses to maintain the reservoirs of its major oil fields.

A part of the contract is for the world’s second-largest oilfield services firm to ensure that field optimisation is achieved.

Halliburton plans to drill about 200 oil and water injection wells, using directional and horizontal drilling. The wells will help to maintain Ghawar’s reservoir pressure and also facilitate the easy flow of oil to the surface.

The scope of works involves several import sectors of Ghawar including Uthmaniyah, Haradh, Hawiyah and Shedgum.

The process of saltwater injection is regarded as a secondary phase of oil recovery and is now becoming a popular method of aiding extraction on some of the kingdom’s other super-giant fields.

The Khurais field, located close to the Ghawar, began production in 2009 following a $10bn scheme designed to add 1.2 million b/d of Arabian light crude to Saudi Arabia’s capacity.

The project, which includes the development of the Abu Jifan and Mazalij fields, uses a saltwater injection system to assist recovery. Saltwater travels through a pipeline to the field and is then injected at a rate of about 4.5 million b/d to increase the pressure underground and enable oil to be extracted more easily.

The EOR techniques are also being applied to the disputed area that lies between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The Partitioned Neutral Zone (PNZ) has the two states disagreeing over who actually owns the area. Because of this, the two countries have agreed to develop any hydrocarbon reserves in a joint venture of Aramco and the Kuwait Gulf Oil Company (KGOC) and share the revenues that are made from selling the oil. 

The company formed to develop the PNZ’s oil and gas reserves is Khafji Joint Operations (KJO). KJO has awarded the US’ Chevron a $340m deal to operate a thermal EOR project in the PNZ.

The field contains an estimated 3 billion barrels of recoverable oil, which is the heavy and viscous crude oil similar to that found in Oman.

The Large Scale Pilot (LSP) steamflood project is being carried out at the onshore Wafra Field in the western area of the PNZ.

The project is the world’s first commercial application of a conventional steamflood in a carbonate reservoir. Steam is injected into the field and makes the heavy crude less viscous and thus easier to extract. 

Under the scheme Chevron will operate 16 steam-injection and 25 production wells. The project aims to produce 300,000 b/d of additional crude to take production up to 600,000 b/d if fully implemented.

The LSP project will be carried out until 2013 and if successful the technology will then be applied to the whole field.

Saudia Arabia taking responsibility for oil assets

As the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, Saudi Arabia has been in the oil industry for almost 80 years.

With the huge volume of proven oil reserves it owns in its fields, the kingdom will be playing a critical role in providing the world with energy for at least another 80 years. Subsequently, Riyadh takes its responsibilities in regards to maintaining its hydrocarbon assets seriously.

While EOR is not yet needed for most of the super-giant fields in Saudi Arabia, there are other considerations. Carbon capture that can be mutually beneficial to both the kingdom and the rest of the world is high on Riyadh’s agenda.

What is clear from the work being currently carried out is that the kingdom knows that one day it will require everything science can offer to extract its oil.