Lab Product News

$300K project to unlock greener methods of producing heavy oil

Saskatoon, SK – Ian Gates, professor and head of the Schulich School of Engineering’s chemical and petroleum department at the University of Calgary, is working with Innovation Saskatchewan and the Petroleum Technology Research Centre in a $303,000 project to develop a unique view of how foamy oil forms during heavy oil production operations.


“Typically we recover only eight to 10 percent of oil from heavy oil wells, leaving 90 percent of the resource left in the ground,” said Gates. “By understanding how foamy oil evolves, and learning how to manipulate its properties, we can use that knowledge to increase production. This could result in accessing millions of dollars’ worth of heavy oil in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way as it means extending the life of existing oil wells.”


Gates will be using the synchrotron at Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon to better understand how foamy oil forms and evolves. The project will be the first time the synchrotron – a high-powered light source that provides detailed information about the structural and chemical properties of materials at a molecular level – will be used to analyze a heavy oil system.


The research team will use data from the experiment to model the physics of foamy oil dynamics in the hope of designing improved recovery processes for reservoirs that employ cold heavy oil production with sand, a process that often leaves “wormholes” in reservoirs that cause rapid pressure depletion and a low recovery factor.


Funding from Innovation Saskatchewan of $160,000, along with $100,000 from the Petroleum Technology Research Centre’s Heavy Oil Research Network and in-kind support from both the Canadian Light Source and the Schulich School of Engineering bring the total project cost to $303,000.


Reported by Sarah McGinnis, University of Calgary