New technology to pinpoint underground oil deposits

January 29th, 2009 - 4:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 29 (IANS) MIT researchers have developed a technology that can precisely map huge underground oil deposits, significantly increasing crude extraction for easy transport. The new technology uses digital image compression technique of JPEG to create realistic-looking, comprehensive maps of underground reservoirs using measurements from scattered oil wells.

“The hope is that better predictions ultimately lead to more efficient operations and increased oil production,” said Behnam Jafarpour, a recent MIT graduate who is now an assistant professor in petroleum engineering at Texas A&M University.

He conducted the study with Dennis McLaughlin, professor of Water Resource Management at the MIT.

Petroleum extraction is expensive and relatively inefficient - sometimes as little as a third of the oil in a reservoir is actually recovered through pumping.

So engineers rely on enhanced recovery techniques such as water flooding to mobilize the oil. To guide this work, they make real-time predictions of subsurface variables, including oil saturation and pressure, but they’re essentially working blindly.

“In a typical reservoir, millions of pixels are needed to adequately describe the complex subsurface pathways that convey the oil to wells. Unfortunately, the number of seismic and well observations available for estimating these pixel values is typically very limited,” McLaughlin said.

“The methods we’ve developed extract more information from those limited measurements to provide better descriptions of subsurface pathways and the oil moving through them,” said McLaughlin, according to an MIT release.

“Our next step - already in progress - is to test our idea in real oil reservoirs and evaluate its impact on oil recovery under realistic field settings,” Jafarpour said.

These papers will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Society of Petroleum Engineering Journal.

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