Surtek is changing the way the world views oil recovery, one forward motion at a time
The image of black gold gushing from a skyscraping well is the stuff of legends, capturing the imagination with its power and promise. As with all legends, that image tells only a very small part of the story. In reality, traditional wells leave a vast amount of oil trapped beneath the surface.
There are three ways to get oil out of the ground. Simply put, the common image of a solitary pumping unit going up and down depicts primary recovery. It seems simple, but according to the U.S. Department of Energy, it only produces about 10 percent of a reservoir’s original oil. Secondary recovery uses a process that injects water or gas to move the oil into the wellbore, and produces 20 to 40% of the reservoir’s oil.
Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), or tertiary recovery, is accomplished in a variety of ways: by heating the oil so it can flow more easily; by injecting gas to either push the oil out and into the wellbore or reduce the oil’s viscosity to increase the flow; and by chemical injection, which treats the water so oil can be efficiently extracted. EOR can produce 30 to 60% of trapped oil from the reservoir.
This kind of recovery is markedly different from any other form of oil or gas extraction. “When you compare EOR to the horizontal drilling and fracking movement, there are key differences. We’re just being efficient with the wells that have already been drilled and trying to go after oil that would typically be written off,” states Surtek CEO Elio Dean. “All oil is not the same. EOR oil has a smaller environmental footprint than oil that requires new drilling. It should be viewed more favorably.”
There are several EOR methods that can be used to extract the remaining oil, after the field releases its initial bounty. EOR enables companies to access oil that was once thought too difficult or costly to reach. However, the expense and the geological challenges of those techniques can limit what is economically recovered.
Surtek’s approach to Enhanced Oil Recovery reaches beyond those limits. “We do the most technical form of reservoir engineering in the industry,” Dean stressed. “It’s complex and requires an understanding of physics and chemistry. Most companies don’t have the resources to do that on their own.”
Since 1978, the Colorado-based firm has led the EOR sector, pioneering the science and technology of locating and extracting trapped oil reserves. They leverage their expertise in the economics of recovery to enable their clients to meet their business goals and do so with transparency and honesty. They are also one of the most diverse small companies in the industry. Their 20 seasoned employees are a mix of cultures and identities, this is a source of great pride for the firm.
From undertaking field assessments to applying sophisticated reservoir modelling and field development planning, Surtek offers the essential data their clients need to make solid economic decisions about the viability of every project. Additionally, the company’s expertise in pilot and field implementation enables them to provide guidance on the design, construction, and operation of the best facility for each client’s needs.
One of Surtek’s showcase strengths is the ability to evaluate and design any EOR strategy.
Surtek’s team of engineers and scientists relies on expertise, experience, and a world class database of projects to identify the ideal technique, examine the geologic properties of the reservoir, and enable the recovery of the most oil in the most economical way.
Surtek is the custodian of over 40 years of EOR data, curated from roughly 2,500 global production sites. Their relational database is a collection of experimental data and field results to support the progression of EOR techniques and offers insights for chemical manufacturers and energy industry pros interested in EOR. Their robust relationships with chemical manufacturers and other providers help to keep them abreast of the latest developments, but unlike similar players, Surtek has zero financial ties to them. This ‘clean hands’ commitment ensures that the client’s needs and expectations stay front and center.
Surtek has always been on the frontlines of innovation; designing revolutionary and highly effective chemical formulations. However, their measure of success has always been the client’s economic success, by producing additional barrels of oil in the field rather than simply a technical improvement in a well-controlled lab environment. For example, a design that produces outstanding recovery results in a lab setting may cause issues in the field that outweigh the economic benefits of the approach. In that event, Surtek has the expertise to develop better routes to success.
Taking giant green steps
Avowed stewards of the land and its resources, Surtek is a strong proponent that the oil and gas industry can and should play a prominent role in developing solutions to our most pressing environmental challenges. Properly applied EOR techniques, such as the ones Surtek develops, can provide additional barrels of oil with little additional infrastructure, emissions, or discharges.
A form of Enhanced Oil Recovery that is becoming highly relevant in today’s environment is Carbon, Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS). Surtek has been involved in the screening and project design for these types of endeavors.
Oilfields have produced trillions of barrels of oil and gas. That same reservoir pore space can be used to safely lock away waste, CO2 and other greenhouse gasses. “These known geologic traps can help the industry get to the green world we hope and strive for,” Dean explained. “We have carbon capture utilization and storage concepts, but we need somewhere to put that carbon. Over the past 40 years we’ve created space for a trillion barrels; most of it has infrastructure available, and most of it is actually connected to different cities and countries with strong economic incentives and social drivers for curbing greenhouse emissions.” The expertise of the geologist, reservoir engineer, and other oil and gas professionals are vital as we move towards capturing carbon dioxide to sequester it deep underground safely and efficiently.
Dean, a former senior reservoir engineer for ExxonMobil Development Company and a current professor of practice at the Colorado School of Mines, has been on the operations side of miscible gas EOR projects. He has been a strong advocate, through both research and practical design, for the of use anthropogenic and biogenic sources of CO2, a miscible gas, in enhanced oil recovery.
In 2016 Dean and a team of researchers conducted a study looking into corn ethanol plants as potential source of CO2 for the DJ Basin. The sequestration of 50 million tonnes of CO2 was the primary objective through a focus on available carbon credits. The substantial incremental oil that could be produced through utilization of that CO2 was a positive benefit.
A challenge toward the effective implementation of CCUS is the decommissioning of mature oil fields and their associated facilities. Wells that are “plugged and abandoned” may be missed opportunities for operators looking to extract more resources or sequester captured carbon. “Not all oil is economically feasible; we can't produce it all and make money, so there’s a lot of plugging and abandonment,” Dean said. “That shouldn't deter the option to inject CO2 into that pore space, seal off the reservoir right before it’s plugged and abandoned and keep the carbon there. Surtek can be a valuable partner in those development plans to either produce more oil or plan to inject carbon into those oil or gas reservoirs.”
Surtek is serious about green initiatives, whether it’s through helping their clients meet revenue goals or taking good care of the planet. “ESG initiatives don’t have to be uneconomic or simply for show, and that’s where it gets exciting. The current movement for better environmental stewardship and addressing climate change has opened up opportunities for the oil and gas industry.”
Noting the federal 45Q carbon credit program, he added, “For every metric ton of CO2 that you sequester you get $35. We're currently involved in a small project where we're evaluating a development plan that could generate $3 million a year in just carbon credits revenue without even producing a barrel of oil. I truly believe CCUS and EOR is something both big and small players should be participating in.”
Surtek is transforming the way we think about tertiary oil recovery. They are doing this by blending decades of expertise, scientific curiosity, and engineering knowledge. Surtek matches their business objectives to the best economic benefit for their clients, by maintaining their core values of honesty, transparency, and neutrality. Their vision is bringing a fresh perspective destined to better the industry as a whole. There is a lot more to know about these groundbreakers at surtek.com.
Surtek has been a Leader in the Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) Industry since 1978. Having roots in practical EOR design and Laboratory Analysis, the team has consulted and implemented more EOR projects than any other specialized team across the globe.
Surtek delivers unique and innovative solutions for any reservoir. Their Capabilities include but are not limited to: laboratory studies for gas and chemical EOR, minimum miscible pressure (MMP) determination for CO2 EOR and other gases, Fluid Analysis, Core Flooding, Field Development Planning, Numerical Simulation, Classical Reservoir Engineering, EOR project Surveillance, Petroleum Data Analytics, and EOR/IOR Knowledge Transfer & Training.
The Surtek Team prides itself on delivering unbiased, practical, and economically driven solutions for their clients. If you are interested in laboratory capabilities, dynamic modeling expertise, unconventional EOR inquiries, or Subsurface consulting, please connect with us.