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Saudi Aramco To Use New E&P Technology.

Speaking in Washington at an energy technology conference sponsored by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Saudi Aramco's chief geophysicist Muhammad M. Al-Saggaf on May 1 said his state-owned company planned to use the latest E&P technologies and "massively increase" oil exploration and more than quadruple investment in such activities over the next five years. He said Saudi Aramco will maintain its level of commitment to gas exploration, "even increasing a little over the next five years". But the main focus will be on scouring the globe for the earth's conventional oil.

Saggaf was joined by top experts at Chevron and ExxonMobil, who touted the latest technological advancements as the key to extracting more of the world's conventional petroleum at a time when consumers and politicians alike are re-evaluating America's dependence on fossil fuels. Amid rampant public outcry over pain at the pump, panel experts predicted a bright future for hydrocarbons and discussed at length the role upstream technology will play in the future of energy E&P. Stephen Cassiani, president of ExxonMobil's Upstream Research Co., focused on the advances the oil super-major made in technology which translates seismic data into three-dimensional images, helping companies look for oil and gas deposits. Advanced seismic imaging technology will be a major component to successful exploration in years to come, Cassiani said, adding: "The challenges we are going to face will require the next generation of imaging technology with significant advances in several areas. We will need tools and procedures to acquire seismic data with substantially higher resolution in all three dimensions".

Future imaging technology will use advanced processing techniques that will capture multiple types of data, predicted Cassiani, adding: "In many cases we only record and use wave pressure data. The next generation of seismic processers will use all returning energy to develop more accurate images". He said significant advances will occur in drilling technology, allowing companies to access more hard-to-reach places in harsher environments. "As the industry continues to push drilling to new frontiers, I expect to see steadily increasing capabilities to drill deeper, longer and reach more complex wells, and to reach higher temperature reservoirs than are accessible today".

Saggaf touted several company in-house developed software innovations which he said will ensure better production from current and future fields. He said one such method was "fractal deconvolution", a new algorithm which allows Saudi Aramco to improve resolution and focus of the seismic data pictures. With fractal deconvolution, "we can map subsurface structures, identify them, and therefore improve our accuracy and enhance our success rate in looking for oil and gas", Saggaf said, stressing that, while conventional imaging methods do not provide quality images of subsurface channels and reserves, Saudi Aramco's DETECT software allows it to see channels with better clarity and ease. Moreover, the technology provides colour-coded maps of reservoirs showing the thickest and thinnest parts so that the company can drill with better accuracy. "Once you have identified the main channels with DETECT, you can target the sweet spots of the reservoir. And the thicker the channel, the bigger the pay". While most of Saudi crude oil production centres in the east, where the supergiant Ghawar axis of oilfields is located, Saggaf said Saudi Aramco was "aggressively pursuing" oil and gas exploration in four other parts of the country, including the Red Sea, the north-west, Rub' Al-Khali (Empty Quarter) in the south, and North Riyadh.

Chevron Energy Technology Co. representative Kevin Kimber, who deals with heavy oil production, focused his remarks on steam flooding technology. Because heavy oil is viscous and molasses-like, steam is needed to heat the oil and make it thinner and easier to flow through the wells. "We can increase our reserves by a factor of two to 10 times compared to conventional techniques", Kimber said. However, steam flooding requires more wells, increasing the level of drilling by four to five times. Kimber said this enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technique is also more expensive, requiring doubled capital investment, a "dramatic" increase in the number of rigs as well as the people needed to maintain steam flooding operations.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Date:May 22, 2006
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