The U.S. shale revolution has dramatically reshaped the world energy markets. The shale boom was one of the most impressive growth stories, from take off in 2008 to the Permian stealing the mantle from Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar as the world’s highest-producing oilfield in a little over a decade.
Different methods of chemical enhanced oil recovery (EOR) have been developed over the years thanks to the continuous decline in conventional oil reserves as well as the accelerated increase in the global energy demand. Surfactant flooding is one of the most commonly used chemical EOR methods due to its ability to enhance recovery using multiple mechanisms including interfacial tension (IFT) reduction, wettability alteration, foam generation and emulsification.
However, a fresh study by Russian petroleum engineering firm Skoltech has found that using water solutions of nanoparticles and surfactants may actually trap the oil underground instead of helping it to be recovered.
Even more intriguing: the researchers have also discovered that brine is just as effective in EOR operations as more expensive surfactants.
The researchers ran a numerical simulation and two complex lab experiments on oil shale samples to determine the effectiveness of injecting water solutions containing silicon dioxide nanoparticles or a surfactant into shale oil reservoirs to enhance recovery. The surfactant used was sodium fatty acid methyl ester sulfonate.
"Our study considered 13 fluids and two were selected for tests on cylinder-shaped samples of oil-saturated rock from the Bazhenov Formation of Western Siberia. First we injected brine--water with a very high salt content--and measured an oil recovery factor of about 53%. This is roughly analogous to being able to extract about half of the oil in the reservoir. That figure served as the baseline value for assessing the efficiency of the two agents in the experiment, although the value under actual reservoir conditions would be lower," the researchers have said.
While the surfactant did boost the oil recovery factor, the 53% boost was exactly the same as with brine injection, meaning shale producers might be wasting precious money. The surfactant was also found to block some of the pores in the rock thus reducing its permeability.
Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM) Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods recently revealed that shale producers can double crude output from their existing wells by employing novel fracking technologies.
“There’s just a lot of oil being left in the ground. Fracking’s been around for a really long time, but the science of fracking is not well understood,” Exxon Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods said Thursday at the Bernstein Strategic Decisions conference. Woods has revealed that Exxon is currently working on two specific areas to improve hydraulic fracturing. First off, the company is trying to frac more precisely along the well so that more oil-soaked rock gets drained. It’s also looking for ways to keep the fracked cracks open longer so as to boost the flow of oil.
Declining Shale Costs
After years of rising production costs amid post-pandemic inflation, the U.S. shale patch can finally breathe a sigh of relief after the cost trajectory hit a turning point. Production costs fell 1% year-on-year in the second quarter, marking the first time they have shrunk in three years. Drill pipe prices have halved this year, daily rig rates are down by more than 10% and the costs of steel and diesel are also trending lower. According to Goldman Sachs via Bloomberg, Drill pipe prices have fallen by 50% this year; daily rig rates are down by more than 10% while the costs of diesel and steel have been gradually declining. Only labor has been defying this trend as wages continue rising.
Whereas a decline of a single percentage point might not make much of a difference on the bottomline, Goldman says costs will be 10% lower in 2024, enough to boost profits and cash flows significantly. Easing price pressures are most welcome: after two years of bummer earnings and copious cash flows, the U.S. oil and gas sector is set to record a decline on both metrics in the current year.
Big Oil Production Growth
Several Big Oil companies have returned their Q2 scorecards, and nearly all have a common theme: considerable production growth but even bigger top-and bottom-line contraction.
Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM) has reported Q2 earnings of $7.88B, good for 55.9% Y/Y decrease while Q2 revenue of $82.91B is good for -28.3% Y/Y growth. On a brighter note, Exxon says it remains on track to deliver $9 billion of structural cost savings by the end of 2023 relative to 2019, having achieved cumulative structural cost savings of $8.3 billion to date. Exxon reported that Q2 total production fell 3.3% Y/Y to 3.61M boe/day; however, excluding divestments, entitlements, government mandates and the Sakhalin-1 expropriation by Moscow, net production actually rose by more than 160K boe/day. The Permian basin delivered a quarterly record 622K boe/day and is on track to increase 10% this year while Guyana is on track to grow production 5% to 400K boe/day by year-end.
Chevron Corp.(NYSE:CVX) reported that its Q2 earnings decreased 48.3% Y/Y to $6.01B while adjusted earnings contracted 49.2% to $5.78B. Meanwhile, Q2 revenue clocked in at $48.9B, good for -28.9% Y/Y growth. Chevron reported record Permian Basin production of 772,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, up 11% Y/Y.
By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com
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