03 September 2015
MUSCAT: Occidental of Oman (Oxy), currently the largest independent oil producer in the Sultanate, is weighing moves to harness the energy of the sun for producing heavy oil from its Mukhaizna field in Block 53 -- a move that could potentially free up massive quantities of commercially valuable natural gas currently being used by the company to produce steam for its Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) operations.
An eventual switch to solar-based steam generation -- emulating majority state-owned Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), which recently inked a landmark deal to set up one of the world's largest solar plants in support of its thermal EOR operations in south Oman -- could dramatically cut the consumption of gas for oil production in the Sultanate, say experts.
The upshot is a potential windfall in conserved natural gas that can be diverted for higher value applications, such as fuel for power generation, water desalination, and industry, and as feedstock for petrochemical processing and downstream value addition.
"Oxy is evaluating a number of options with regard to steam generation from solar energy," said Salim bin Nasser al Aufi, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Oil and Gas. "GlassPoint (technology) is a potential option, but they also have other potentials they are currently evaluating. Yes, they are looking at solar, but it needs to be cost-neutral for them," the official added in comments to the Observer.
US-based GlassPoint Solar, a leading provider of solar steam generators to the oil and gas industry, is partnering with PDO in the establishment of a giant solar thermal facility planned at the latter's Amal heavy oil field. The project, which is due to come into operation starting in 2017, will provide a substantial portion of the steam required by PDO for producing oil from the Amal field.
PDO, along with Oxy Oman, are the main consumers of natural gas for their thermal EOR operations. Much of this consumption takes place in oil fields where the targeted reservoir in question contains heavy and viscous oil, which requires massive quantities of steam to be injected at high pressure into the reservoir in order to make the oil flow towards producer wells.
Oxy Oman, for its part, currently uses around 200 million cubic feet of gas per day to produce the steam necessary to sustain current output of around 125,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) from the Mukhaizna field, which hosts one of the world's largest thermal EOR projects.
At the core of the project is an oil treatment plant with a capacity of more than 180,000 barrels of oil per day and steam injection facilities of a capacity greater than 550,000 barrels of steam per day (bspd).
Any significant transition to solar-based steam generation will help curb the rising trend in natural gas utilization in EOR operations in the Sultanate, say experts. The share of natural gas diverted for EOR jumped to 19 per cent (3.07 billion cubic metres -- bcm) of total gas supply (16.18 bcm) in 2014, up from 17 per cent in 2013.
© Oman Daily Observer 2015