Features

Ready when you EOR

single image

Following a sizable investment in new capacity, chemicals supplier SNF looks to the next wave of chemically enhanced oil recovery projects on the UKCS.

As producers look to the future of the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), it’s clear that alongside new exploration efforts and smarter technologies, extra efforts will be needed to support existing assets as they approach the end of their productive lives. Central to those efforts will be chemically enhanced oil recovery (CEOR) programmes.

Also known as ‘tertiary oil recovery’, EOR is a catch-all covering any operations that use additional techniques beyond natural reservoir pressure, pumps or water injection to return oil and gas to the surface. Typically, this may include injecting gas, specific blends of saline water and/or bespoke chemicals, all of which help push more hydrocarbons out of the reservoir structures faster, and boost recovery.

In support of wider Maximising Economic Recovery (MER UK) plans, the OGA has developed an EOR Strategy which includes these technologies, and explicit support for the economic development of at least 250 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe) of incremental reserves – primarily through polymer CEOR programmes – over the next decades. This involves working with operators and the supply chain to support new and existing projects, and to drive risk reduction via technical and economic improvements.

SNF is set to play a key supporting role in these efforts. As the world’s largest supplier of polyacrylamide – a vital polymer for the CEOR process – the company has been involved in many of the large-scale CEOR projects commissioned to date across the world. Part of the SPCM Group headquartered near Lyon in France, its 23 factories support oil operations on every continent, as well as the mining, water treatment and paper industries.

Growing interest in EOR has seen the company’s reach expand further. “SNF’s growth beyond its traditional water treatment, pulp and paper, and mining markets has been driven by the global oil industry,” SNF UK managing director Andrew Woollin tells Wireline. This has included supplying polymer for China’s onshore fields – one of the frontiers for the development of EOR techniques – since the early 1990s, as well supplying polymers for onshore fracking projects in North and South America or treating tailings generated by the Canadian oil sands mines. These operations are largely supplied from production sites in Georgia and Louisiana in the USA.

With demand for CEOR polymers defined as part of the future of production in the North Sea, SNF has been investing accordingly, committing over £100 million to a new manufacturing plant in Billingham, Teesside, to provide local capacity. “Whilst the oil recovery factor is higher if CEOR is implemented early in a field’s development, it is economically viable at any stage of the exploitation of the field, such at the start of water flooding or when a field is mature. At this stage of field development, the use of CEOR polymers can be used to significantly increase returns for operators by reducing cost and minimising supply chain risk,” he says.

“The use of CEOR polymers, with a typical offshore cost of around $5-15 per barrel of additional oil, can be considered both environmentally beneficial and sustainable, given that the polymers are manufactured using a carbon efficient bioprocess using an enzymatic catalyst alongside the fact that produced water volumes can be reduced by up 65% and by removing the need for further exploration along with associated risks and costs. SNF estimates that the use of CEOR polymers can enable CO2 emissions to be reduced by around 50% primarily based on the vastly reduced amount of water requiring pumping, treating and handling per barrel of oil produced.”

“The site was chosen with a view to be more than big enough to serve the North Sea in its entirety for probably the next 20-30 years. It’s taken with a very long-term view – a lot of investment is already committed.”

Ahead of the market

The 50-acre site in Billingham forms the bedrock of SNF’s growing links with North Sea oil and gas producers. Development began in 2013, though Woollin recounts a long process of land grading and construction before the facility itself was able to open. The first production train opened in 2018 and is used mainly to serve the UK water and wastewater industry. A further two production lines, with world-scale capacity aimed exclusively at oil and gas customers, will be commissioned later in 2020 having been delayed by the impact of COVID-19.

He continues: “A lot of the preparation work for the long term capacity expansion of the site is already completed and given the long time horizons that the oil industry operates on, we can invest to expand capacity essentially when customers need us.”
“The site was chosen with a view to be more than big enough to serve the North Sea in its entirety for probably the next 20-30 years. It’s taken with a very long-term view – a lot of investment is already committed.”

With that in mind, SNF is already looking to its newest tranche of customers. “We’re talking to various operators with projects in differing states of advancement and will tailor our capabilities to meet their needs,” Woollin says.

“SNF is in this industry for the long run; we know the importance of the North Sea to the UK and Scottish economies and are positioning to add capabilities and capacities over the long term.”

Thinking globally

SNF’s plans to increase global capacity are as much about supply chain resilience and risk reduction as market share and existing market demand. In light of the recent disruptions caused by COVID-19, the ability to ensure continuity of supply is vital, especially in the case of multi-million-dollar EOR projects where production can decline dramatically without regular polymer injection.

“Having plants around the world means we can source raw materials and produce polymers efficiently and effectively on a global basis,” he explains. It also provides flexibility in supply. As at Billingham, most of the group’s manufacturing plants are able to respond according to demand, increasing output when and if demand rises. “That’s very much the philosophy of SNF – whatever customer demands are placed on us we want to be able to meet them,” he explains.

That also has implications for cost and for the sustainability of the supply chain. Woollin is bullish on the impact that co-ordinated logistics and supply chain management can have for end users: “Once the polymer is manufactured , value can be created by optimising the supply chain to minimise vehicle movements to both reduce cost and to drive carbon out of the supply chain,” he notes. “Our Billingham site is ideally located, being both close to a major UK chemical manufacturing hub and the ports necessary to enable shipment of CEOR polymers to the North Sea by supply boat.”

In addition to supplying chemical products, SNF’s dedicated oilfield customer engineering teams based in France can also advise on how best to design plant and handling equipment for storage and injection into the reservoir. EOR polymers are manufactured on a bespoke basis to meet the specific requirements of each oil or gas field, but Woollin says that the earlier SNF’s technical teams can get involved in a project, the more expertise, and hence value, they’re able to offer operators.

Whatever the short-term disruption to the market, Woollin is unequivocal about SNF’s long term commitment to the North Sea: “SNF is in this industry for the long run; we know the importance of the North Sea to the UK and Scottish economies and are positioning to add capabilities and capacities over the long term.”

You may like