CO2 could boost oil recovery from North Sea

According to a new study conducted at Durham University, oil recovery using carbon dioxide could lead to a North Sea oil bonanza worth £150bn − but only if the infrastructure to do so is put in place immediately.

Durham University researchers have shown that using carbon dioxide (CO2) to enhance the recovery from existing North Sea oil fields could yield an extra three billion barrels of oil over the next 20 years.

Jon Gluyas, a professor in CCS and geo-energy at Durham University’s Department of Earth Sciences, who came up with the figure, said: ’Time is running out to make best use of our precious remaining oil reserves because we’re losing vital infrastructure as the oil fields decline and are abandoned. Once the infrastructure is removed, we will never go back and the opportunity will be wasted.’

Prof Gluyas said that action was urgently needed to develop the capture and transportation infrastructure to take the CO2 to where it is needed. ’My figures show that developing this technology could lead to a huge rejuvenation of the North Sea,’ he said.

Oil is usually recovered by flushing oil wells through with water at pressure. Since the 1970s, oil fields in West Texas have been successfully exploited using carbon dioxide. CO2 is pumped as a fluid into oil fields at elevated pressure and helps sweep the oil to the production wells by contacting parts of the reservoirs not accessed by water injection. The result is much greater oil production.

Experience from the US shows that an extra four to 12 per cent of the oil in place can be extracted using CO2-enhanced oil recovery. Prof Gluyas calculated the total oil in place in the UK fields and the potential UK gain in barrels and revenue from existing reserves using the American model.

He added: ’Enhanced recovery of oil in the North Sea oil fields can secure our energy supplies for the next 50 years. The extra three billion barrels of oil that could be produced by enhanced CO2 recovery would make us self sufficient and would add around £60bn in revenue to the Treasury.’

The study, funded by Dong Energy and Ikon Science, will be presented today at a conference on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.

Concerns over the transport of CO2 must be addressed if carbon capture and storage is to really take off. Click here to read more.