In preparation for a field pilot of cyclic solvent injection (CSI) on two depleted cold heavy oil production with sand (CHOPS) wells, a series of oilsands coreflood experiments were conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of various commercially available solvents and make a solvent recommendation for the pilot. Oil recovery and solvent recovery were the key performance indicators used to compare CSI effectiveness of each solvent blend. The operating pressure for each test was kept relatively constant for each solvent blend tested. Tested solvents included blends of methane/propane, carbon dioxide/propane, methane/ethane, 100% ethane, and nitrogen. Sensitivities for depletion rate and blowdown pressure are also presented. Overall the 100% ethane test performed the best with the highest oil recovery and solvent recovery in the fewest cycles. Due to the lack of commercial ethane supply and the industry experience with methane/propane in Husky Edam’s CSI pilot, a methane/propane blend was recommended for the field pilot in Manatokan East near Bonnyville Alberta Canada.
Cold heavy oil production with sand (CHOPS) is a relatively recent technology. As such, only a few case histories of its application over a number of years have been published. Nonetheless, those that are available provide insight into the application of this technology. A detailed Luseland field case history has been published.
Cold heavy oil production with sand (CHOPS) involves the deliberate initiation of sand influx during the completion procedure, maintenance of sand influx during the productive life of the well, and implementation of methods to separate the sand from the oil for disposal. No sand exclusion devices (screens, liners, gravel packs, etc.) are used. The sand is produced along with oil, water, and gas and separated from the oil before upgrading to a synthetic crude. To date, deliberate massive sand influx has been used only in unconsolidated sandstone (UCSS) reservoirs (φ 30%) containing viscous oil (μ 500 cp). It has been used almost exclusively in the Canadian heavy-oil belt and in shallow ( 800 m), low-production-rate wells (up to 100 to 125 m3/d).
In an immobile porous medium, the Darcy velocity, vf, is taken relative to a fixed reference frame. This effect can be substantial in several circumstances. During early sand influx in viscous reservoirs (μ 5000 cp), sand content may approach 40 to 45% by volume of the gas-free produced material. The reservoir is mined almost hydraulically, and sand flux is largely responsible for the flow enhancement. However, sand flux diminishes with time, and this effect gradually becomes less important.
In cold heavy oil production with sand (CHOPS) production, the two limiting physical mechanisms for sand are compact growth of the remolded zone as a cylindrical (or spherical or ellipsoidal) body or extension of an anastomosing piping channel system comprising a network of tubes ("wormholes"). These lead to different geometries in situ, although the impact on well productivity may not be quantifiable through measurements. Figure 1 shows a compact zone growth hypothesis for CHOPS. In compact growth, the ratio of the area of the fully yielded zone to the volume enclosed approaches a minimum because a cylindrical or elliptical shape is spatially more compact than a channel network. Discrete zonal boundaries do not really exist: a gradual phase-transition zone develops, although it may be treated mathematically as a thin front, just as in a melting alloy. The complex and diffuse boundary shape is approximated by a geometrically regular shape and a distinct liquefaction front. A circular 2D assumption is simplest for analysis because the radius of the zone and, hence, the pressure gradient can be scaled directly to sand-production volume with no additional assumptions.
While typical production operations seek to prevent sand production, cold heavy oil production with sand (CHOPS) operations use sand production to increase overall productivity. This difference can create operational issues throughout the life of a CHOPS well. It has implications for monitoring strategies as well. To initiate sand influx, a cased well is perforated with large-diameter ports, usually of 23 to 28 mm diameter, fully phased, and spaced at 26 or 39 charges per meter. More densely spaced charges have not proved to give better results or service, but less densely spaced charges (13 per meter) give poorer results.
The claim that the world is irresponsible in rapidly consuming irreplaceable resources ignores technical progress, market pressures, and the historical record. For example, the "Club of Rome," with the use of exponential growth assumptions and extrapolations under static technology, predicted serious commodity shortages before 2000, including massive oil shortages and famine. First, the new production technologies are proof that science and knowledge continue to advance and that further advances are anticipated. Second, oil prices will not skyrocket because technologies such as manufacturing synthetic oil from coal are waiting in the wings. Third, the new technologies have been forced to become efficient and profitable, even with unfavorable refining penalties. Fourth, exploration costs for new conventional oil production capacity will continue to rise in all mature basins, whereas technologies such as CHOPS can lower production costs in such basins. Fifth, technological feedback from heavy-oil production is improving conventional oil recovery. Finally, the heavy-oil resource in UCSS is vast. Although it is obvious that the amount of conventional (light) oil is limited, the impact of this limitation, while relevant in the short term (2000 to 2030), is likely to be inconsequential to the energy industry in the long term (50 to 200 years). The first discoveries in the Canadian heavy-oil belt were made in the Lloydminster area in the late 1920s. Typically, 10- to 12-mm diameter perforations were used, and pump jacks were limited by slow rod-fall velocity in the viscous oil to a maximum of 8 to 10 m3/d of production, usually less. Operators had to cope with small amounts of sand, approximately 1% in more viscous oils. Small local operators learned empirically that wells that continued to produce sand tended to be better producers, and efforts to exclude sand with screens usually led to total loss of production. Operators spread the waste sand on local gravel roads and, in some areas, the roadbeds are now up to 1.5 m higher because of repeated sand spreading. The sharp oil price increases in the 1970s and 1980s led to great interest in heavy-oil-belt resources (approximately 10 109m3). Many international companies arrived and introduced the latest screen and gravel-pack technology but, in all cases, greatly impaired productivity or total failure to bring the well on production was the result. To this day, there are hundreds of inactive wells with expensive screens and gravel packs. The advent of progressing cavity (PC) pumps in the 1980s changed the nonthermal heavy-oil industry in Canada. The first PC pumps had low lifespans and were not particularly cost-effective, but better quality control and continued advances led to longer life and fewer problems. The rate limits of beam pumps were no longer a barrier and, between 1990 and 1995, operators changed their view of well management.
CHOPS is not suitable for all heavy unconsolidated sandstone (UCSS) reservoirs. Recovery factors greater than 20% of OOIP are unusual; values of 10 to 16% are more common. However, combining CHOPS with other production technologies may increase ultimate recovery factors. Through yield, dilation and liquefaction, and perhaps through channeling, CHOPS creates a large region of greatly enhanced permeability. Is it possible to exploit this with other technologies?
Nevertheless, a decade of efforts has achieved substantial progress toward the correct physical simulation of CHOPS. Adequate simulation models are now available, and progress continues. This section discusses the major physical processes in an attempt to identify first-order controls on CHOPS. Sand liquefaction accompanies all CHOPS processes. In this solid-to-fluid phase transition, porosity plays the same role as temperature in the melting of a solid.
Cold heavy oil production with sand (CHOPS) recovery processes generate large volumes of sand that must be managed. In Canada in 1997, approximately 330,000 m3 of sand (approximately 45% porosity sand at surface) were produced from CHOPS wells. Individual wells may produce as much as 10 to 20 m3/d of sand in the first days of production and may diminish to values of 0.25 to 5 m3/d when steady state is achieved. Sand grain size reflects most of the reservoir. There is little sorting or segregation in the slurry transport to the well; however, not all zones in the reservoir may be contributing equally at all times.