What have we achieved in the IOR Centre?

Eight years of research on improved oil recovery are coming to an end. In this article you get the highlights from the research at The National IOR Centre of Norway.

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Doctoral fellows Tijana Voake (left) and Ema Kallesten. Voake now works at Equinor, while Kallesten works in the research department at the University of Stavanger. Photo: UiS / Marius Vervik

In December 2013, the University of Stavanger (UiS), together with its research partners NORCE and IFE, was awarded The National IOR Centre of Norway. The Centre's goal has been to improve oil recovery on the Norwegian shelf. The word "improve" is not only referring to increased recovery, but also to minimizing the environmental risk - getting more oil from existing, mature fields and not necessarily developing new fields. For both existing fields and new fields that have not yet been put into production, it is important to make the best decisions and choose the best methods to improve oil recovery.

"These eight years have given us enormous opportunities to build our competence and knowledge. The time at the IOR Centre forms the basis for continuing the work," says centre manager Ying Guo. She took over as manager after Merete Vadla Madland in September 2019. The rest of the management group consists of Tina Puntervold (deputy manager and leader of theme 1), Randi Valestrand (leader of theme 2), Aksel Hiorth (research director) and Sissel Opsahl Viig (director of field implementation).

The Department of Energy Resources and the Department of Energy and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Stavanger, together with the energy groups at NORCE and IFE, are among the leading institutions in their field. Over the last 40 years, UiS has built up a strong professional environment within improved oil recovery. The main task is to develop new and environmentally friendly technology. This was also the mandate given to the IOR Centre when the Research Council of Norway announced UiS as host of the Centre eight years ago. The IOR Centre should contribute with innovation and new technology that benefits both the nation and the environment.

What have we accomplished?

Extracting more oil from old fields requires a lot of energy. Therefore, our researchers have developed new methods and tools to improve the recovery rate. At the bottom of this article you will find a list of highlights from the research at the Centre. The list includes simulation tools and software that are already in use by several of our nine industry partners.

"Through the research, the IOR Centre will contribute to better recovery on the Norwegian shelf, but we will also contribute to Norway being equipped for a more sustainable future. Our expertise is relevant not just for increased oil recovery. We also produce technology that becomes crucial the day the oil is phased out," says associate professor Tina Puntervold.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate has mapped a technical potential for significant amounts of oil and gas from mature fields on the Norwegian shelf. By using advanced methods for increased recovery, it is possible to extract in the order of 320-860 million standard cubic meters of oil. In addition, there are significant amounts of oil and gas in dense reservoirs that can be extracted by using new technology.

"Our mandate has been to conduct research on improved recovery for the years to come. Through better methods, we can contribute to as gentle and energy-efficient oil recovery as possible," says Puntervold.

From lab to field

For many years, it has been a political goal to increase the recovery rate. This is also a high priority for the government, which has a stated goal of extracting more of the resources in each field. The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate mentions increased recovery as one of its flagship issues.

"The IOR Centre has contributed to increased and improved production on the Norwegian shelf, among other things by means of new simulation tools. One of the goals of our research is to scale up the recovery mechanism observed on the pore and core scale to field scale. We have developed four simulation tools that can all help maximize the recovery rate," says Tina Puntervold.

She also highlights the new tracers developed at IFE (Institute for Energy Technology).

"The tracers can, among other things, measure the oil saturation in the field there and then. Instead of taking samples from a field, and then sending them for analysis in a laboratory, you get direct measurements from the field. The analyzes are adapted to the exact conditions in the fields," she says.

Increased value creation

Last year, Rystad Energy published a report showing the potential and realized effects of the Research Council's investments in petroleum of approximately NOK 4.8 billion in the period 2008 to 2018. The Research Council has invested NOK 80 million in the IOR Centre.

According to the report, the Research Council's petro centers and Petromaks projects have led to increased reserve volumes of almost 900 million barrels of oil equivalents in the period 2008-2018, with a further volume upside of 11 billion barrels until 2050. The investments has also resulted in cost savings of NOK 18 billion. The potential for further savings is 1200 billion. At the same time, the potential for further emission reductions is great.

The realized volume gains relate, among other things, to advanced methods for reservoir understanding and increased recovery, and in particular the development and use of so-called Ensemble Kalman Filter methodology (EnKF), the report states.

"This methodology is an important part of the research at the Centre. It is a set of statistical tools that enable more efficient use of the oil companies' software in reservoir modeling and simulation. The purpose is to make better decisions in drilling and drainage strategy," Puntervold explains.

EnKF technology is estimated to account for more than half of the technology area's realized reserve increase of 540 million barrels of oil equivalents, according to the report from Rystad Energy.

What next?

Together with partners NORCE and IFE, UiS has applied for a new petro center. Also on the team is the University of Bergen. The new center has been named NCS2030 (National Center for Sustainable Reservoir Utilization on the Norwegian Continental Shelf).

"The vision of the new center is to facilitate an energy-efficient use of the resources in the subsoil on the Norwegian continental shelf. The center will contribute to a sustainable value chain in the underground, through research on energy systems, low emissions and digitization of the shelf," says Puntervold.

The allocation of a new center will take place in December. If UiS gets the new center, it will mean eight new years of petroleum research for the current partners.

Text: Kjersti Riiber

Scientific highlights

One of the main objectives of the research at the Centre is robust upscaling of recovery mechanism observed on pore and core scale to field scale. The main aspects on pore scale are to identify the mechanisms that influence transport and reactions using experiments and numerical modeling, and then to evaluate if these mechanisms are important on the core scale. The pore scale simulator is an important tool in this work. 

Lately, our researchers have worked to improve the documentation and user interface of the BADChIMP pore scale numerical model to help facilitate its use by a larger user group. We will also deliver user documentation (user manual) for the basic use of the BADChIMP code. 

IORCoreSim is a tool for simulating the combined effect of low salinity water injection and polymer flooding on oil recovery. For this work, PhD student Oddbjørn Nødland and senior scientist Arild Lohne at NORCE won SR-bank's Innovation Prize 2018.  

Together Lohne and Nødland have developed a simulation tool with a potential for great positive implications for the industry. IORCoreSim can contribute to minimize the use of polymers and thereby saving the environment and maximizing recovery of excisting oil reservoirs. 

Several of our industry partners are using the tool already. 

The IORSim is a high-tech tool that will help to streamline and improve the oil recovery in existing fields. The IORSim reads output from eclipse, diffuse and advect tracers, IOR chemicals and temperature along the flow fields defined by the reservoir simulator. 

10 December 2019 we gave our first user course in IORSim. In 2020, the second version of IORSim was released.

A collaborative effort where the objective is to develop open-source simulation tools for porous media flow. The goal of the initiative is to establish a sustainable environment for the development of an efficient and well-maintained software suite. 

OPM encourages innovation and cooperation between both academia and industry; it is in use on fields worldwide, including five full fields at the NCS so far. Achievements from the IOR Centre are included in release versions twice a year. 

Bridging the gap between lab and field. The purpose of the most recent yard test has been to evaluate the thermally triggered polymers such as associative polymers to study polymer retention, polymer propagation and thermal-activation mechanism. 

The large-scale test at Halliburton is an integrated project with service companies, operators, and chemical suppliers (BASF, SNF). It will take us a step closer to field pilot. 

The tracers developed at IFE can measure reservoir properties and conditions during production. The most important condition is the oil saturation, either in the flooded volume between wells or in the near-well region out to some 10 meters from the well (single-well huff-and-puff examinations). 

The nanoparticle tracer technology developed at IFE has the potential to reduce the operational time from days to hours because no well shut-in time is needed since it is not based on ester compounds, which need time to hydrolyze. A successful development of this technology will constitute a major forward leap in SWCTT for Sor determination. 

In 2001 ensemble-based data assimilation methods were applied for petroleum problems at IRIS (now NORCE) for the first time. Since then, we have conducted extensive research and the approach is now considered state-of-the-art. 

Researchers at the Centre have developed a new approach and workflow for assimilating both production and seismic data. The workflow includes generation of an initial ensemble of reservoir models, data compression based on image denoising, uncertainty quantification of seismic attributes, adaptive selection of influential measurements and use of an iterative ensemble-based method. 

We are using decision and data analytic approaches to identify and value relevant and material data in IOR contexts. Value-of-Information analysis evaluates the benefits of collecting additional information before making the decision on whether to invest in gathering this additional information. 

Our researchers will build a synthetic dataset that mimics the decision contexts of IOR operations under geological uncertainties. It will serve as test subject for different approaches of data screening. After establishing a solid concept, we hope to demonstrate the method on a real field application. 

As part of answering the need for sustainability, we have integrated an environmental risk assessment (ERA) project in all our activities. The purpose of this project is to develop and implement new risk analysis methods and models, suitable for the novel IOR solutions developed at the Centre. 

In 2020, our researchers did initial studies of field specific and large-scale environmental impacts and continue working on ERA of smart water/polymer flooding. In addition, we will develop a method for quantifying emissions to air from IOR/EOR solutions. 

University of Stavanger has established a research and educational base in offshore technology that has attracted students from all parts of the world. The National IOR Centre of Norway is an important part of this. During the Centre lifetime, we will educate 29 PhD students and 18 postdocs – far more than originally planned. 

To make sure our PhD candidates also get industry relevant practice during their training, our goal is that all candidates have one supervisor from the industry. We also encourage our industry partners to invite our PhD candidates for short research stays. 

The annual conference at University of Stavanger has become a great arena for academia, research institutions and industry to share knowledge and get an update on the latest in IOR research. About 300 participants each year is a high number considering the difficult times in this industry the last few years. In addition, we are proud to say that the conference has become an important arena even for the master students at UiS. 

As one of the research centers for petroleum in Norway, the government expect that the IOR Centre through concentrated, focused and long-term research efforts at a high international level, solve the identified challenges for utilization of the petroleum resources. In this concern, the IOR Centre strives to obtain a close collaboration with national authorities like the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. When we join forces, we can improve oil recovery at the Norwegian Continental Shelf.  

The prize is awarded during the IOR conference and goes to a young researcher who excels in the field. The prize is named after Professor Emeritus Svein Skjæveland. Since the 1970s, he has, through his research and competence development in the petroleum industry, in his own way contributed to increasing recovery from the oil fields. Skjæveland has been a central part of the management team since the establishment of the IOR Centre.

One of the deliveries to the industrial partners in the Centre is a set of "recommended practices". We have collected the user manuals and "recipes" related to our most important research projects. The reports cover everything from laboratory work to softwares. After the Centre's end, the reports will be available on our website.


Faculty of Science and Technology
Department of Energy Resources
Førsteamanuensis i petroleumsteknologi
Faculty of Science and Technology
Department of Energy Resources

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