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Published on 24 Oct 2014 | over 2 years ago

Geologists use seismic surveys to search for geological structures that may form oil reservoirs. The "classic" method includes making an underground explosion nearby and observing the seismic response that provides information about the geological structures under the ground. However, "passive" methods that extract information from naturally-occurring seismic waves are also known.

The oil well is created by drilling a long hole into the earth with an oil rig. A steel pipe (casing) is placed in the hole, to provide structural integrity to the newly drilled well bore. Holes are then made in the base of the well to enable oil to pass into the bore.Finally a collection of valves called a "Christmas Tree" is fitted to the top, the valves regulate pressures and control flow.

During the primary recovery stage, reservoir drive comes from a number of natural mechanisms. These include: natural water displacing oil downward into the well, expansion of the natural gas at the top of the reservoir, expansion of gas initially dissolved in the crude oil, and gravity drainage resulting from the movement of oil within the reservoir from the upper to the lower parts where the wells are located. Recovery factor during the primary recovery stage is typically 5-15%.

While the underground pressure in the oil reservoir is sufficient to force the oil to the surface, all that is necessary is to place a complex arrangement of valves (the Christmas tree) on the well head to connect the well to a pipeline network for storage and processing. Sometimes pumps, such as beam pumps and electrical submersible pumps (ESPs), are used to bring the oil to the surface; these are known as artificial lift mechanisms.

Over the lifetime of the well the pressure will fall, and at some point there will be insufficient underground pressure to force the oil to the surface. After natural reservoir drive diminishes, secondary recovery methods are applied. They rely on the supply of external energy into the reservoir in the form of injecting fluids to increase reservoir pressure, hence replacing or increasing the natural reservoir drive with an artificial drive. Secondary recovery techniques increase the reservoir's pressure by water injection, natural gas reinjection and gas lift, which injects air, carbon dioxide or some other gas into the bottom of an active well, reducing the overall density of fluid in the wellbore. Typical recovery factor from water-flood operations is about 30%, depending on the properties of oil and the characteristics of the reservoir rock. On average, the recovery factor after primary and secondary oil recovery operations is between 35 and 45%.

The amount of oil that is recoverable is determined by a number of factors including the permeability of the rocks, the strength of natural drives (the gas present, pressure from adjacent water or gravity), and the viscosity of the oil. When the reservoir rocks are "tight" such as shale, oil generally cannot flow through but when they are permeable such as in sandstone, oil flows freely. The flow of oil is often helped by natural pressures surrounding the reservoir rocks including natural gas that may be dissolved in the oil (Gas oil ratio), natural gas present above the oil, water below the oil and the strength of gravity. Oils tend to span a large range of viscosity from liquids as light as gasoline to heavy as tar. The lightest forms tend to result in higher extraction rates.

Petroleum engineering is the discipline responsible for evaluating which well locations and recovery mechanisms are appropriate for a reservoir and for estimating recovery rates and oil reserves prior to actual extraction.

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