Lying at a depth of 3 000 metres, the Ekofisk reservoir is 10 kilometres long, five kilometres wide and has an average thickness of 300 metres.
Its distinctive feature is that it consists of chalk – unlike most other reservoirs, which are found in sandstone. Improving recovery from chalk called for research.
A key specialist in this area was Tor Austad, who served as a professor of reservoir chemistry at the University of Stavanger (UiS).
He and his team won the improved oil recovery (IOR) prize from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) for in 2011 their work on chalk reservoirs.
This award was presented on 7 June 2011 during a conference on reservoir management organised by the Norwegian Petroleum Society in Stavanger.
“This year’s prize recognises a demanding and continuous research commitment for improving oil recovery,” said NPD director general Bente Nyland when making the presentation.
Research into improving recovery from Ekofisk and other chalk fields was conducted at Corec, a specialised IOR research centre created in 2002.
It was established by the University of Stavanger, the International Research Institute of Stavanger (Iris) – now the Norwegian Research Centre (Norce) – and ConocoPhillips. The latter had contributed NOK 10 million annually in research funding.
Austad had 15 years of experience in his field. His particular interest was how seawater injection affected a chalk reservoir, and he was impressed by the dramatic improvement in recovery from Ekofisk.
“Without waterflooding, the recovery factor would have been around 30 per cent rather than today’s 50-55 per cent,” he commented when receiving his award.
The IOR prize increased the standing of the research team in Stavanger. So it is unlikely to have been coincidental that petroleum and energy minister Ole Borten Moe selected Ekofisk as the location to announce plans on 9 October 2012 to establish a new research institute for improving oil and gas recovery.
The government understood the importance of IOR. A one per cent increase in the recovery factor on the Norwegian continental shelf corresponded to more than NOK 300 billion in higher revenues, given the oil prices prevailing in 2012.[REMOVE]Fotnote: ConocoPhillips website, “Foregangsfeltet Ekofisk», 10 October 2012.
But this new state-funded research facility was not necessarily going to Stavanger. When the Research Council of Norway announced a competition to host the centre, strong scientific teams in Bergen and Trondheim joined the fray.
However, it became clear in September 2013 that the National IOR Centre of Norway would be established in Norway’s premier oil industry centre.
Petroleum and energy minister Tord Lien opened the facility in December 2013. It was run by a consortium between the UiS, as the host organisation, Iris (now the Norwegian Research Centre – Norce), the Norwegian Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) and 12 industry partners.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Annual report 2014, National IOR Centre of Norway.
The centre’s goal was to contribute to environment-friendly methods for improving recovery from oil and gas fields, as well as supporting 20 PhD students and six post-doctoral posts.
Austad won another IOR prize in 2018 from the US Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), which stages a biennial conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with the emphasis on enhanced oil recovery (EOR).
He was presented with the award for the work he and the Smart Water EOR group at the UiS had done on reservoir wetting and on IOR based on wettability changes using water.
This research began in 1990s by looking at the application of surfactants, but moved on to utilising Smart Water – where the salt content in injection water has been modified.
The latter substance is very environment-friendly compared with other water-based chemical EOR methods, as well as being extremely easy to use in existing infrastructure. That gives low overall costs.
Austad was the first Norwegian to receive one of the SPE’s IOR pioneer awards, which have been presented since 1984.[REMOVE]Fotnote: University of Stavanger website, 25 April 2018.Accommodation rig in positionGEA ready for another 40 years