Mississippi State University researchers are using a $1.5 million federal grant to implement an oil recovery process that could streamline US production and help reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources.
In partnership with Texas-based Denbury Resources, the largest oil and gas operator in Mississippi, university experts hope to tap into the 40 per cent of oil that remains in most petroleum reservoirs after standard production techniques have been applied.
‘This project has ramifications for the future, spanning the gamut from increasing oil production from U.S. reservoirs to reducing our dependence on foreign oil,’ said geologist Brenda Kirkland, a member of the interdisciplinary team of MSU scientists.
She said the grant from the United States Department of Energy will help the team apply over the next three years a process called Microbial Permeability Profile Modification. Developed by MSU biological sciences professor emeritus Lewis Brown, the process already has been proven effective in recovering additional oil from nearly depleted fields.
‘The main importance of this research is to improve oil recovery,’ said Charlie Gibson of Denbury Resources, which is based in the Dallas suburb of Plano.
According to Denbury officials, when an oil well in this area is drilled about 20 percent of the oil will usually flow to the surface because of the pressure in the reservoir. Other enhanced recovery techniques such as water flooding and carbon dioxide flooding then are employed to extract an additional 40 percent of the oil, leaving 40 percent of the resource still untapped, they said.
MPPM promotes the growth of bacteria indigenous to the oil-bearing formation, changing the pathway of injection water forces and forcing oil into new channels that become part of the produced fluid. Bacteria growth, enhanced by the addition of essential nutrients, increases the sweep efficiency of the water flooding operation.
‘This new project will give us a chance to increase the value of the MPPM technology by coupling the carbon dioxide flooding technology, which should result in even greater recovery of oil than either technology alone,’ said Brown.
The veteran microbiologist, who joined the Starkville faculty 1961, is designing nutrient solutions that will be injected into samples to promote the growth of dormant bacteria occurring naturally in rocks.
In addition to Kirkland, geologic team members Leo Lynch and Darrel Schmitz will combine traditional and innovative techniques to determine the chemistry and three-dimensional pore structure of the reservoir at the bacterial scale. This information will be combined and tested at Denbury’s Mississippi oil fields.
An assistant professor of geosciences, Kirkland is a carbonate sedimentologist from Dallas who studies the formation of microbes in limestone. Lynch is a clay mineralogist from Passaic, New Jersey who studies how objects grow in oil reservoirs.
The microbe-hunting geologists and MSU faculty members since 1999 use high-powered electron microscopes to scan miniscule features on a variety of rocks, clay, limestone, and other natural substances in pursuit of nanobacteria.
‘Anything we can do to improve the areal [related to or involving an area] and vertical sweep of the carbon dioxide process will lead to higher oil recoveries,’ said Denbury’s Gibson. ‘In turn, this will result in extending the life of our existing fields—and, perhaps more importantly, improve the economics of future projects in Mississippi and other areas in the US.’