Combining disciplines yields more oil

The Centre for Integrated Petroleum Research (CIPR) at the University of Bergen was among the initial 13 SFF centres established. After ten years, its activities as an SFF centre are now drawing to a close.

Distinctive interdisciplinary approach

Mathematics is a field with clear boundaries since it is a science that simplifies complex questions. Geology is by its nature very complex but can sometimes be too little quantitative. Both physics and chemistry are disciplines that have more to offer in a wider perspective.

Researchers at CIPR first came together in 2002 under the banner of interdisciplinary collaboration. They knew this approach is what would distinguish the centre – but would it help them to deliver new and improved research?

Knowing how it looks beneath the seabed

Now, ten years later, those CIPR researchers can be proud of accomplishing their original objectives and more. The centre has scored high in evaluations and received accolades. Several of its works have attracted wide international interest.

The challenge of petroleum exploration is knowing what things look like kilometres beneath the ocean floor. So the petroleum industry is always in search of more reliable reservoir models and enhanced knowledge about how oil and gas move once the extraction process begins. Last but not least, better recovery mechanisms are always in demand.

“To provide new answers, we wanted to do more than simply combine the four disciplines,” says Arne Skauge, Director of CIPR. “We were also intent on uniting theoretical and experimental research, so in this way too we would need to break down traditional barriers.”

Photo: Haakon Fossen CIPR researchers studying rock in Utah, USA. (Photo: Haakon Fossen)

Less chemical use

One area in which CIPR has excelled is in describing how oil flows over subterranean faults and fracture zones.

“Here we had a true research breakthrough,” the director states.

“Today we feel we have most definitely raised Norwegian petroleum research to a new level during our centre’s decade of existence,” he continues. “Much has been achieved by linking the different research disciplines together. We have also been involved in applying existing recovery mechanisms to new kinds of hybrid recovery processes which reduce costs through higher efficiency. These new methods are far better than those they’re replacing.”

The CIPR research team is behind a number of recovery mechanisms that, compared to conventional methods, have substantially reduced the use of chemicals, simplified logistics, and greatly cut costs.

Studied rock in Utah, Sinai and Svalbard

There is much that can be learned above the surface about oil-saturated rock deep down.

Understanding the analogous rock visible to the naked eye above ground can help in recovering oil from Norwegian waters and around the world. For this reason the CIPR researchers travelled to Utah in the US, to the desert of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and to Svalbard and Greenland.

“That field work was a fantastic starting point,” explains Dr Skauge. “With a new 3D laser camera we took images of large rock faces, what we call geological outcrops. Much of this is analogous to oil fields beneath the North Sea. Attaching cameras to a helicopter made it possible to photograph large expanses in a few hours.”

The CIPR researchers have made the most from the data collected in their project, for instance by studying the spectrums of solar light reflected from rock faces, and developing an instrument capable of seeing which atoms and minerals are present in rock faces.

“This works particularly well for carbonates, that is, carbon compounds, which we find in the chalk fields, for instance around Ekofisk in the North Sea. This research can be transferred to the geology beneath the North Sea floor, and also to many other places with petroleum reserves.”

Photo: CIPR We were intent on uniting theoretical and experimental research, so in this way too we would need to break down traditional barriers, says Arne Skauge, Director of CIPR. (Photo: CIPR) Information in boreholes

When a borehole is excavated, petroleum companies record how much oil, gas and water they extract out of the hole. But there is a great deal more information to be gotten from a borehole.

“For example, we have worked with mathematical tools that give us more knowledge about the changes that occur in the distribution of oil, gas and water down in the reservoir. It’s about getting the most possible out of the history of a reservoir, and learning from it.”

One key to this aspect of CIPR’s research is a method for gleaning maximal information from oilfield production histories. CIPR’s method borrows liberally from modern weather forecasting methods; millions of data bits are collected and then put into context, so that the researchers can provide the petroleum industry with a better picture of what has occurred and is occurring down in the petroleum reservoirs.

The CIPR has also carried out extensive research relating to plans for securely storing CO2 beneath the North Sea. Another focus for the researchers has been transferring knowledge from the petroleum industry to the wind power industry.

“Fully exploit existing fields!”

The interdisciplinary approach has made the CIPR’s research unique. Now Dr Skauge and his colleagues hope to maintain the expertise and collaborative relationships established, and are crossing their fingers that the soon-to-be-concluded SFF centre in Bergen will be able to continue in the form of a national knowledge centre for petroleum recovery.

“Even though there are more proven new fields in the North Sea and Barents Sea, it is still vital to continue concentrating on the fields already up and running,” says the director.

“Once the petroleum platforms are in place, it is critical to fully exploit the fields before abandoning them. In the years to come, Norway will have to decide whether to shut down existing recovery fields. And once we shut down an oilfield, it is almost unthinkable that anyone would start it up again. This is why these considerations and this research are so important.” 

Centre for Integrated Petroleum Research (CIPR)
  • Objectives: To be an internationally cutting-edge research centre for generating fundamental knowledge about oil and gas fields, help to increase recovery of reserves, and ensure maximal recovery from fields before they are shut down. 
  • Participants: University of Bergen and Uni Research, with funding from a number of oil-and-gas sector companies. 
  • Annual allocation from the Research Council: NOK 14 million. 
  • Total annual budget: NOK 60 million.
  • Total man-years: roughly 50 researchers, along with 30-40 doctoral and 40 Master’s students.

www.cipr.uni.no


 

 

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