More oil from water

Mississippi State University has successfully tested an oil-water separation system that could increase petroleum production and potentially save millions of dollars in recovery costs.

Mississippi State University has successfully tested an environmentally friendly oil-water separation system that could increase petroleum production and save millions of dollars in recovery costs.

The XpaK family of systems, developed by Nu-Corp International Technologies Inc. of Byhalia, was shown in recent tests conducted by MSU’s Diagnostic Instrumentation and Analysis Laboratory (DIAL) to recover more than 99 percent of the oil from oil-water mixtures with no detectable water contamination.

According to Nu-Corp officials, the pressurised recovery system processes mechanical emulsions without the need for chemical or other additives. The single-pass separation process can increase crude oil margins and refined petroleum production, and recover lost refined products associated with refining operations.

‘Successful implementation of the XpaK enhanced recovery system will provide four important benefits to domestic oil producers: reduced capital equipment costs, reduced operating costs, increased yields of oil and improved environmental stewardship,’ said John Plodinec, director of the MSU lab.

‘Once commercialised,’ he added, ‘XpaK should provide high recovery rates in applications as diverse as used oil at airports, end-of-run oil wells and oil recovery from our nation’s ‘Ghost Fleet’,’ decommissioned ships that are awaiting dismantling and are considered attractive targets for terrorists.

Plodinec said DIAL and Nu-Corp, which will manufacture and market XpaK, are seeking federal funding to conduct a large-scale demonstration of the new system at an oil-field site near Heidelberg sometime in the near future. Denbury Resources Inc., an independent oil and natural gas company based in Dallas, Texas, has agreed to provide in-kind support for additional testing. DIAL researchers involved in the project include John Etheridge, Arun Kumar and Larry Pearson.

According to Plodinec, current oil recovery systems operate on the residual oil in low-producing wells and are able to recover a maximum of only about 75 percent of the oil in a given well. The recovery effort in those operations may cost up to $1.5 million a year for chemicals, with equipment costs of some $2.5 million.

‘The capital equipment for the enhanced recovery system will cost significantly less than conventional treatment processes that require multiple units,’ he asserted, noting the XpaK family of systems is based on straightforward fluid dynamic principles, utilising a combination of moderate temperatures and a patented separator to produce a superior solution.

According to Nu-Corp officials, based on the DIAL tests, the XpaK system would increase crude oil production by an estimated 8-12 percent per day, with a corresponding reduction of 60 percent in chemical costs. Marketed at $30 a barrel, they predicted the new revenue would increase net margins for producers.

‘In addition, use of XpaK will significantly increase the number of wells from which oil can be economically recovered,’ said Plodinec. ‘It is a recognised fact by the petroleum industry that there are more oil reserves left in the ground than have been mined.’

The MSU official said tests also showed that oil from brines that cannot be economically recovered using current practices can be extracted using the XpaK system; and, from an environmental standpoint, brine returned to the wells will be considerably more benign. This, in essence, will reduce chemical contaminants from being reintroduced into the brine water stratus, he said.

‘After recovering oil from the brine, an operator currently pumps the residual brine into formerly producing wells,’ said Plodinec. ‘This residual brine contains approximately 10 times the amount of oil contained in the brine from the XpaK enhanced recovery system.

‘Further, the chemical loading of the residual brine from the enhanced recovery system will be much less than that from the current process, since no chemicals are needed to assist in separation,’ he added. ‘Thus, the residual brine from the enhanced recovery system will be more benign toward the environment.’