A Kansas University oil recovery program is using new technologies to improve the way independent Kansas oil and gas producers get their product.
KU’s Tertiary Oil Recovery Project has been funded by the Kansas Legislature since 1974 to assist the state’s oil industry, which, unlike Alaska or Texas, doesn’t include large, big-time oil companies tapping its resources.
Jenn-Tai Liang, director of the project, said researchers work closely with Kansas oil producers, who often lack the resources of their larger competitors.
“If you’re a smaller producer, you don’t have (a research and development) department,” Liang said. “We sort of function as their R&D department.”
Jeremy Viscomi, director of technology transfer for the program, said he works to bring the latest innovations to the companies themselves, from within the university and other sources.
“Kansas is in a unique position,” Viscomi said. “It’s got a lot of energy potential in a variety of different energy sources.”
In addition to its capabilities for wind and other alternative energy, it has a lot of fossil fuels still available, he said. “We’re going to need all forms of energy until we come up with some kind of game-changing innovation,” he said.
KU researchers are working on a number of projects that may have use to the industry, and also will help ease the transition to more sustainable efforts. One project includes finding better ways to sequester carbon dioxide underground. The gas is pumped into large, hollowed-out oil reservoirs, where it is trapped so that it cannot enter the atmosphere.
It’s an expensive process, Liang said, but KU researchers are working to help mitigate those costs by using the gas to improve oil recovery, too.
Liang said the gas acts like a detergent would on cloth, separating the oil from the underground rocks to make it easier to collect.
The technology has been around for a while, but KU researchers have used a field project in Russell to examine effective ways to get the carbon dioxide to the oil deposits — researchers used trucks in that case. Liang said laying pipeline would be the most effective, but it is also costly. The more that can be done to offset the costs, the more likely the technology will be met with success, he said.
Up next for the effort is to use funds from a recently obtained Department of Energy grant to look for new areas to test the technology in shallower sites, where less is known about the technology’s usefulness, Liang said.
KU also has its own oil recovery technologies, like bringing the success of anti-cancer drug delivery structures to oil fields.
A cancer drug, Liang said, needs to be effectively delivered to cancerous cells without harming the rest of the cells in the body. Chemical products feature compounds that prevent the drug from being released until it’s reached its desired target.
Oil recovery has similar issues — releasing a compound to improve oil recovery before it reaches the oil can be wasteful and harmful to the environment, Liang said. The cancer drug technology allows for the chemicals’ maximum benefit to be reached.
Viscomi said the program also has an economic development benefit. According to figures from the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association, the state has more than 2,100 licensed producers contributing to a $6.3 billion industry.
“It’s a large business and a big economic driver,” Viscomi said.