Friday, November 30, 2007

Breakthrough in Heavy Oil Recovery

via ScienceDaily, the story of a fantastic new method of recovering previously difficult (and expensive) to extract heavy oil deposits. This new method, developed in Britain, has been in the works for almost 17 years, with the necessary breakthroughs occuring just in the last 18 months. Called THAI (Toe to Heel Air Injection), it utilizes the injection of air into the ground and then igniting it, heating the material and allowing the oil to be recovered more easily. The method not only uses less energy than previous methods using natural gas and water, it also expands the percentage of oil recoverable from the field.

"THAI™ uses a system where air is injected into the oil deposit down a vertical well and is ignited. The heat generated in the reservoir reduces the viscosity of the heavy oil, allowing it to drain into a second, horizontal well from where it rises to the surface. THAI™ is very efficient, recovering about 70 to 80 per cent of the oil, compared to only 10 to 40 per cent using other technologies."

The exciting prospect behind this is that there is far more of this more difficult to extract oil in areas such as Canada than there is of the usual "light" oil in the entire Arabian penninsula. The process is already being used in a Canadian test site on bitumen deposits (even harder to produce from than oil shale or tar sands) is producing 3,000 barrels a day, and this is expected to more than triple in capacity soon, with the potential to grow as high as 100,000 barrels daily. The bitumen at this particular site alone holds as many as 2.6 billion barrels of oil. The other amazing item is that the THAI system is economical at prices as low as $10 a barrel.

With oil prices currently almost $100 a barrel, and these deposits available in more politically stable locations, this new extraction method promises to help us bridge the gap until better energy alternatives (like hydrogen) become available.

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