Kansas University will work with Kansas oil producers to revive oil production in a series of projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Two DOE grants, for $2 million and $1.7 million, to KU will be used with matching funds from independent oil producers. Teams of scientists and oil producers will look at existing oil fields in Hodgeman, Allen, Ness and Finney counties before exploring new techniques to increase oil production.
Rodney R. Reynolds, KU liaison engineer, estimated that the new technologies could yield several hundred thousand additional barrels of oil from existing Kansas fields. Currently, annual oil production is about 600,000 barrels in Allen and Hodgeman counties and 2 million barrels in Finney and Ness counties
"The real benefit will be in the snowball effect, as other oil producers see that these new methods work, and begin using them," Reynolds said.
With the minimal production of many Kansas oil wells, operators may be forced to plug the wells because working them won't pay. But once they're plugged, the remaining oil underground would become uneconomical to produce, he said.
The projects will be administered by KU's Energy Research Center, which includes the Tertiary Oil Recovery Project, the Kansas Geological Survey and the Department of Geology. Don W. Green, Conger-Gable distinguished professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and co-director of the Energy Research Center, is one of the project directors.
Reynolds is affiliated with the Tertiary Oil Recovery Project, which works to bring university knowledge and technology to independent oil operators.
KU engineers and geologists will work with James E. Russell Petroleum Inc. at the Savonburg Field in Allen County. They'll use an injected gel to block previously used water ways, forcing water into oil-rich areas of the field and, in turn, pushing the oil from the ground.
In Finney County, the project will involve Sharon Resources at the Stewart Field. At that field, the oil is rather viscous, so the project will try to recover additional oil through polymer flooding.
"If you have a fairly viscous oil and try to displace it with water, it doesn't work efficiently, because the water will finger through the oil," Reynolds said. "So we change the viscosity of the fluid we inject into the ground."
KU engineers and geologists will work with Consolidated Oil and Gas Inc. on the Petersilie Field in Ness County and the Bindley Field in Hodgeman County.
In those fields, the project will involve drilling new wells and deepening some existing wells, after careful surveys of geological and engineering data.
The United States imports about 55 percent of its oil, and many major oil companies are focusing on overseas operations, Reynolds said. That leaves the small, independent oil producers in the U.S. without resources for developing new technologies to get oil out of the ground.
After oil wells are drilled, initial production usually totals about 15 percent of the available oil. Secondary production methods, such as pumping water into the ground to force out oil, realize another 15 percent. That leaves about 70 percent still underground.
"So there's still a significant amount of oil down there," Reynolds said.
"Advanced technologies for getting the oil are available, but most are uneconomical at today's oil prices. What we're hoping to do is make the existing wells productive enough to keep them going until the market changes or better, more economical techniques are developed."