The in-situ steam based technology is still the main exploitation method for bitumen and heavy oil resources all over the world. But most of the steam-based processes (e.g., cyclic steam stimulation, steam drive and steam assisted gravity drainage) in heavy oilfields have entered into anexhaustion stage. Considering the long-lasting steam-rock interaction, how to further enhance the heavy oil recovery in the post-steam injection era is currently challenging the EOR (enhanced oil recovery) techniques. In this paper, we present a comprehensive review of the EOR processes in the post steam injection era both in experimental and field cases. Specifically, the paper presents an overview on the recovery mechanisms and field performance of thermal EOR processes by reservoir lithology (sandstone and carbonate formations) and offshore versus onshore oilfields. Typical processes include thein-situ combustion process, the thermal/-solvent process, the thermal-NCG (non-condensable gas, e.g., N2, flue gas and air) process, and the thermal-chemical (e.g., polymer, surfactant, gel and foam) process. Some new in-situ upgrading processes are also involved in this work. Furthermore, this review also presents the current operations and future trends on some heavy oil EOR projects in Canada, Venezuela, USA and China.
This review showsthat the offshore heavy oilfields will be the future exploitation focus. Moreover, currently several steam-based projects and thermal-NCG projects have been operated in Emeraude Field in Congo and Bohai Bay in China. A growing trend is also found for the in-situ combustion technique and solvent assisted process both in offshore and onshore heavy oil fields, such as the EOR projects in North America, North Sea, Bohai Bay and Xinjiang. The multicomponent thermal fluids injection process in offshore and the thermal-CO2and thermal-chemical (surfactant, foam) processes in onshore heavy oil reservoirs are some of the opportunities identified for the next decade based on preliminary evaluations and proposed or ongoing pilot projects. Furthermore, the new processes of in-situ catalytic upgrading (e.g., addition of catalyst, steam-nanoparticles), electromagnetic heating and electro-thermal dynamic stripping (ETDSP) and some improvement processes on a wellbore configuration (FCD) have also gained more and more attention. In addition, there are some newly proposed recovery techniques that are still limitedto the laboratory scale with needs for further investigations. In such a time of low oil prices, cost optimization will be the top concerns of all the oil companies in the world. This critical review will help to identify the next challenges and opportunities in the EOR potential of bitumen and heavy oil production in the post steam injection era.