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BP technology boosts oil recovery adding to potential energy supplies

Release date:
5 September 2012

BP and its coventurers are deploying for the first time a new technology that could significantly increase the amount of oil that can be recovered from the UK’s largest hydrocarbon resource. The Clair Ridge development, west of Shetland, UK, is the first sanctioned large-scale offshore enhanced oil recovery (EOR) scheme using reduced salinity water injection (LoSal® EOR). The intention is to extract a higher proportion of oil over the life of the field from the rocks deep below the seabed than has previously been possible.


The GBP£4.5 billion development at Clair Ridge includes around USD$120 million for the desalination facilities to create low salinity water for ‘waterflooding’ from sea water. BP estimates this will enable the production of around 42 million barrels of additional oil compared to waterflooding with conventional seawater, making a significant contribution to the estimated 640 million barrels of recoverable oil from the development.


The Mad Dog Phase 2 project in the Gulf of Mexico is the second offshore project that plans to include a low salinity waterflood to support increased oil recovery from the field. The facility will have a low salinity waterflood injection capacity of more than 250,000 barrels of water per day.


The technology has already been successfully tested in a field trial in the Endicott field, Alaska, between 2008 and 2009, where low salinity water was injected in one well and the incremental oil production observed in another. Endicott proved up the laboratory trials at full scale.


“LoSal® EOR and other technologies developed by BP are increasing the world’s energy supplies, improving recovery rates and getting more for every dollar we invest,” said Bob Fryar, BP’s executive vice president for production. “LoSal® EOR has immense potential for increasing the amount of oil recovered from the ground. If it can be successfully applied to similar fields around the world it will increase the world’s recoverable oil by billions of barrels.”


Oil reservoirs are not underground caverns, but layers of sandstone with oil and gas held in the spaces between the grains that make up the rock. Allowing an oil reservoir to produce oil through declining natural pressure results in relatively low recoveries, so many fields inject water (‘waterflooding’) into the oil-bearing rocks to increase the amount of oil that can be produced. Waterflooding sweeps oil towards the producing wells, but even then, much is often left behind. Globally, only about 35% of the oil in place is extracted, leaving huge natural resources – and energy supplies – untapped. LoSal® EOR could significantly improve the recovery from waterfloods.


Around 60% of BP’s oil is produced using traditional waterflooding to help extract oil from reservoirs. Full implementation of potential low salinity projects across BP's portfolio could increase net recovery by up to 700 million barrels of oil equivalent.


In conventional waterflooding, injected water flows through layers of porous reservoir rock displacing oil from the injection well to the production well. The pore spaces often contain clays to which oil is bound. LoSal® EOR, using reduced salinity water, releases a lot more of the bound oil and pushes it to the production wells.


“Oil industry wisdom says you shouldn’t inject anything too ‘fresh’ or the clays within the oil-bearing sandstones can swell and reduce the ability of the oil to flow,” says Jackie Mutschler, head of upstream technology at BP. “So BP looked at the fundamental chemistry which makes the oil molecules stick to the rock surfaces in reservoirs. What we discovered is that by reducing the salinity, and hence the ionic concentration of the injected water, more molecules of oil could be released from the surface of the grains of the sandstone rock in which they’re held.”


The chemical studies showed that the oil molecules are bound to clay particles by ‘bridges’ of divalent cations such as calcium or magnesium and, in high salinity water – ie, with high ionic concentration – they are compressed to the clay surface by electrical forces. By reducing the salinity, this force is reduced and the ‘bridges’ are able to expand allowing the divalent cations to be swapped for non-bridging monovalent ions such as sodium. The oil molecules are then freed to be swept towards the producing wells.


LoSal® EOR was developed by BP’s enhanced recovery technology team, known as Pushing Reservoir Limits™, following a decade of laboratory tests at BP’s UK research centre at Sunbury-on-Thames, using sandstone samples from across BP’s global operations. Then, near well-bore single-well tests in several oilfields were performed to prove the technology worked in practice. This culminated in the successful field trial in the Endicott field, Alaska.


BP has decided to deploy LoSal® EOR technology in all appropriate oil field developments from now on, and is assessing whether retrofitting some existing fields is commercially viable and technically feasible. As a result BP has at least five new and retrofit projects under active evaluation following on behind Clair Ridge .


BP operates a number of EOR projects around the world such as at Magnus in the UK North Sea where around 30% of the current oil production rate is due to EOR and Ula in the Norwegian north Sea where around 70% of the current oil production is from EOR.


LoSal® EOR is part of BP’s Designer Water® suite of technologies. LoSal and Designer Water are registered trade marks of BP p.l.c, Pushing Reservoir Limits™ is a trade mark of BP p.l.c

Background on enhanced oil recovery (EOR)

Just drilling a well in gets about 10%, flooding with seawater will increase this. Even with seawater flooding the worldwide average recovery from an oilfield is 35%. Enhanced oil recovery is the next step - doing things beyond simply injecting seawater or gas for pressure maintenance.


In Alaska BP processes and reinjects almost as much gas as the UK uses, this helps to increase oil recovery through a variety of processes (and saves a valuable, lower carbon natural resource).

Further information



BP Press Office, +44 (0)20 7496 4076, bppress@bp.com

BP Press Office, Houston, +12813664463, uspress@bp.com

Notes to editors


Clair Ridge is a £4.5bn development announced by BP and its coventurers ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Shell in October 2011. It is expected to come onstream in 2016 and produce up to 120,000 barrels of oil per day at peak.


Processing equipment on the new Clair Ridge platforms to deploy LoSal® EOR will include the capacity for desalination of 145,000 barrels (c.25,000 tonnes) of seawater per day.


More information about LoSal® EOR including the chemical mechanism, single well chemical tracer test mechanism, corefloods and the Endicott inter-well field trial video demonstrations are at http://www.bp.com/LoSal.


LoSal® EOR uses seawater with reduced salt levels, just a few thousand parts per million (ppm) or less. Seawater is typically 35,000 ppm and the World Health Organisation recommendation for good palatable drinking water salt content is <600ppm.


BP is a sponsor of the British Science Festival, Aberdeen, 4-9 Sept, 2012 

Cautionary statement


This statement contains forward-looking statements including statements with respect to future capital expenditure, the date or period when planned plants or facilities are expected to be installed, longevity of facilities, future hydrocarbon recovery and production volume, the date or period in which production is expected to come on stream and the additional recovery and production volume levels from the use of LoSal EOR and other low salinity technologies, and other statements which are generally, but not always, identified by the use of words such as “will”, "could", “expected to” or similar expressions. Forward looking statements involve risk and uncertainty because they relate to events and depend on circumstances that will or may occur in the future and are outside the control of BP. Actual results may differ materially from those expressed in such statements, depending on a variety of factors, including the timing of bringing new fields on stream; future levels of industry product supply; demand and pricing; operational problems; general economic conditions; political stability and economic growth in relevant areas of the world; changes in laws and governmental regulations; actions by regulators; exchange rate fluctuations; development and use of new technology; the success or otherwise of partnering; the actions of competitors; natural disasters and adverse weather conditions; changes in public expectations and other changes to business conditions; wars and acts of terrorism or sabotage; and other factors discussed in BP’s in Form 20-F, SEC File No. 1-06262, including under ‘Risk Factors’.

Cautionary note to US investors


The SEC permits oil and gas companies, in their filings with the SEC, to disclose only proved reserves that a company has demonstrated by actual production or conclusive formation tests to be economically and legally producible under existing economic and operating conditions. We use certain terms herein, such as “recoverable oil”, that SEC guidelines strictly prohibit us from including in filings with the SEC. US investors are urged to consider closely the disclosures in our Form 20-F, SEC File No. 1-06262. This form is available on our website at www.bp.com. You can also obtain this form from the SEC by calling 1-800-SEC-0330 or by logging on to their website at www.sec.gov.