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New research is being done on new forms of enhanced oil recovery for conventional oil wells.

Squeezing oil from rock

At a time when much of the focus in the U.S. is on extracting oil from shale and other unconventional sources, the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota is exploring new ways of pulling oil from conventional resources.

Conventional geologic formations contain oil-bearing rock that’s more porous and more permeable than unconventional resources. But what researchers learn from studying them can also be applied to unconventional formations throughout the Williston Basin, which extends into Canada and covers parts of North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota, said Ed Steadman, EERC vice president for research.

The old way of drilling vertical wells into conventional resources has given way to the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques used in the Bakken and Three Forks unconventional shale formations, where more than 95 percent of North Dakota’s oil extraction occurs today. The EERC’s projects return to the much deeper Red River formation — composed of rock similar to limestone — originally targeted by the oil and gas industry.

“It’s a huge enhanced oil recovery target that’s estimated to be 400 million barrels of potentially recoverable oil,” Steadman noted. “Even though it’s conventional — not the Bakken or Three Forks — it’s a large target that would have dramatic economic impact. If we could increase our conventional production, that just benefits everyone.”

Each 1 percent increase in extraction translates into $1 billion of oil production, he said.

“That’s what enhanced oil recovery is all about: squeezing that last bit of oil out,” Steadman explained.

Advanced oil recovery

The EERC recently received two contract awards for $8 million each from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Technologies for Enhanced Oil Recovery program for research projects on conventional geologic formations in North Dakota and Montana. 


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Good description of a very thick (700 feet) conventional drilling target in the Red River formation. I’ve had a portfolio there for a long time and  have always thought the RR limestone (an oil-soaked sink, and a tremendous “trap”) to be more attractive than the tombstone rock. Thanks for posting the article, Tom. 

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