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Volume 67—1987

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Oklahoma Academy of Science Award of Merit
for Service to Science in Oklahoma

Presentation of the Award of Merit was made at the November 1986 technical meeting of the Oklahoma Academy of Science in Tahlequah. The award recognizes NIPER for establishing a scientific basis for petroleum technology and for promoting conservation and efficiency in the use of energy resources.

The laboratory was established on March 28, 1918, as the Bartlesville Petroleum Experiment Station of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Mines and was operated by the Bureau until 1975. When the administration of the Center was transferred to the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) the name was changed to the Bartlesville Energy Research Center. In 1978, the laboratory was placed in the U.S. Department of Energy and its name became the Bartlesville Energy Technology Center. In October 1983, DOE contracted with the IIT Research Institute (Chicago) to continue the laboratory as the National Institute for Petroleum and Energy Research (NIPER). The objective has not changed since the Institute was founded from the principle of working with the petroleum industry to find new and better ways of producing, processing, and using petroleum and alternative fuels.

The major areas of technological strength at NIPER, namely thermodynamics research and enhanced oil recovery research, have continued to receive emphasis since the early days at the Bureau of Mines laboratory. The thermodynamics research group at NIPER, the only remaining one of its kind in the free world, has been active since the early 1940's. Over the years, the group has established a worldwide reputation for the excellence of its experimental and theoretical thermodynamics research accomplishments. Current applications range from establishing optimum conditions for removal of heteroatoms from feedstocks such as heavy oils or petroleum residues to applying the principles of themodynamics, to problems in tertiary oil recovery by using adsorption and solution calorimetry. The enhanced oil recovery research program has resulted in the world's largest accumulation of data supporting the new technologies of chemical flooding, steamflooding, gas displacement processes, and microbially enhanced oil recovery.

The laboratory has made numerous significant contributions to petroleum technology nationally as well as in Oklahoma's petroleum industry. Early achievements in conservation include furnishing technical background for unitization legislation, establishment of the Interstate Oil Compact Commission to conserve oil and gas, and establishment of the maximum efficient rate basis for proration. Methods were developed and evaluated for increasing the recovery of oil from oil sands. Gas injection methods were developed utilizing compressed air, natural gas (methane), combustion gases, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. These gases not only pressure the formation to push the oil out, but also, by going into solution, reduce the viscosity of the oil and lighten it so that it is easier to produce.

Pressure maintenance became a keyword in petroleum production because, when the reservoir pressure is depleted, naturally occurring gas comes out of solution, and the resulting more viscous oil is harder to produce. One result of pressure maintenance operation was a recycling process in which the gas was separated from the produced oil and returned to the formation to drive out additional oil.

Later, because of availability and low cost, water became the prime means for producing additional oil after the primary or flush flow ceased. Waterflooding is generally applied in a five-spot pattern with water-injection wells at the corners of a square and a production well in its center. In this

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way, the water from the outer parts of the pattern is slowly forced toward the center, pushing the oil toward the production well.

Other techniques that have contributed to improved recovery by stimulation are acidizing and hydraulic fracturing. The acid permits a more rapid recovery of oil by enlarging pores in the formation. The "hydraulic fracturing" process used a gel under pressure to break up the formation. It rapidly supplemented explosive fracturing or "well shooting" as a means of increasing oil flow.

Various techniques to enhance the recovery of oil were attempted in the 1960's. Thermal methods--including steam injection and in situ combustion--were tried. Miscible flooding, in which fluids were injected that could dissolve the oil, was used in various experimental projects.

Chemicals were added in the waterflooding process in order to recover additional oil. The first step was the addition of a polymer to the water being injected in a pattern. The polymer increases the viscosity of the water so that it has less tendency to penetrate or run past the oil bank, and consequently more oil is recovered. A second step was the use of surfactant in the water to lower the interfacial tension between the oil and water, and thus to release additional oil from the rock pores. A third method was to add a chemical (e.g., sodium hydroxide) to alter the rock surface and decrease wettability toward oil.

Energy Production Technology

Currently ways are being studied to predict more accurately the amount and distribution of potentially recoverable oil within a reservoir, to improve methods of enhanced oil recovery (EOR), and to develop simulation technologies for oil and gas reservoirs. As the oil industry faces the problem of recovering oil from hard-to-reach formations under a variety of difficult geologic conditions, knowledge of geological, geophysical, and chemical characteristics of rocks and reservoir fluids is becoming increasingly important in reservoir management.

State-of-the-art methods and equipment are used to determine rock properties and rock/fluid interactions, adsorption effects, and heterogeneity effects; advanced geostatistical tools are used to determine spatial variations. Once these reservoir parameters are established, they are used by geologists and engineers to "model" a given reservoir for predicting oil recovery.

All of the EOR research and field testing projects NIPER has under way are aimed at finding economic ways of recovering a portion of the oil that is left in the reservoir after primary and secondary recovery. The program centers on developing processes for additional oil recovery by means of: chemical flooding, thermal recovery methods, gas displacement, and other, more "exotic" methods that have potential, such as microbial oil recovery-the technology for employing microorganisms to release oil from reservoir rock.

Methods are being evaluated for the recovery of unconventional gas resources located in lenticular sandstone formations in the western United States (estimated to range from 190 to 575 trillion cubic feet). This research focuses on development of hydraulic fracturing technology, including fracture modeling, characterization of fracturing fluids, proppant testing, and fracture conductivity studies.

Fuels Technology

NIPER's strategy in fuels technology has two parts: (1) to find the most efficient ways of processing and refining oils into usable fuels and (2) to improve the performance of fuels and engine systems.

Over the past 45 years, great progress has been made in processing research-the technology for converting raw materials into usable fuels. The Bartlesville laboratory played a leading role in that progress. Scientists working at the laboratory during World War II made landmark advances in thermodynamics that ultimately contributed to the manufacture of synthetic rubber. During that same period they also developed the rotating bomb calorimeter, a device that is now used throughout the world to provide precise thermodynamic measurements.

Some current projects include: developing energy conversion data to design optimum processing techniques for coal syncrudes, shale oil, and heavy petroleum; studying thermodynamic properties of high-energy/high-density fuels; measuring pres-

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sure-volume-temperature properties of compressed fluids and thermodynamic properties of organic nitrogen compounds; and reclaiming waste fuels and lubricants.

Research efforts in NIPER's fuel chemistry section are closely related to those in processing and thermodynamics. In fact, much of what has been achieved in processing technology is a direct result of what chemical researchers have discovered about crude oil composition. The chemistry needed is being developed to upgrade heavy oil feedstocks and the heavy ends of petroleum and syncrudes from coal and shale oil, concentrating on the removal of problem components such as metal-organic compounds, nitrogen compounds, and sulfur compounds.

The second part of NIPER's strategy in fuels technology is to develop a better understanding of how transportation and industrial fuels can be used most efficiently in environmentally sound ways. The emphasis here is on fuels derived from changing refinery feedstocks. This is an area of special importance in defining the effects of fuel composition and properties on engine performance and automotive emissions.

The laboratory conducts emissions testing and exhaust characterization as part of the total EPA-standard vehicle testing performed at NIPER. The alternative fuels work has been expanded to investigate the use of natural gas, liquefied petroleum gases, alcohols, and gases and liquids from coal as potential vehicle fuels. Studies are also under way on the use of coal slurries in water and diesel fuel in stationary diesel engines. Guidelines for the use of coal/water and coal/diesel fuel slurries in stationary diesel engines are currently being established.

NIPER's accomplishments in the areas of petroleum production and fuels technology are impressive, but they are only the beginning. By combining technology with service, dedication to scientific research, and industry knowledge, the Institute will continue to explore new methods of economically obtaining more energy for future needs and ways of using that enery efficiently.