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Copyright 2005, International Petroleum Technology Conference

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A great industry challenge exists to increase
recovery factors in E&P projects from the current
average levels of low 30s. This challenge becomes, in
turn, a unique opportunity for EOR technologies to make
a sizeable contribution to additional reserves.

This paper reviews this challenge by considering
portfolio aspects, target setting, EOR technologies and
enabling factors.

The discussion of EOR technologies includes
some of the accomplishments of EOR in gas, thermal
and chemical flooding and their current contribution to oil

Advances in technology in many areas all contribute
in the realization of the EOR promise. We will discuss
three key areas: fractured carbonate rocks, gas sourcing
and Smart Fields. Shell’s in-situ thermal project at Peace
River provides an example of the use of a full suite of
monitoring technologies to understand sweep and
recovery mechanisms. An example is also given of the
use of swellable elastomers for water shut-offs and
inflow/outflow control options.

A successful EOR practice requires a number long-
term commitments in human and capital resources,
technology deployment and R&D, and sustainable

The various aspects discussed in this paper will
be summarized in a strategy framework where in
addition to the presented components also synergies
with outside organizations as well as partnerships and
alliances are considered.


The global average recovery factor in oil fields is of
the order of 30% with a wide scatter between 0%
(stranded fields) to 70%. This is illustrated in Fig.1 in
which field data in the ISH data base were ranked for
Recovery Factor and their STOIIP integrated.

Figure 1: Worldwide Distribution of Recovery Factors for
data in the ISH data base

This indicates that there is still a huge prize in many
fields to increase the recovery factor. This can be
achieved through better and more cost effective
execution of conventional development processes
leveraging best-in-class practices. However, in many
fields the deployment of novel IOR/EOR technologies is
required to achieve higher recovery over the field life
In the early 1980’s, extensive research, field-
testing and implementation of IOR/EOR projects were
triggered by an expectation of high oil prices and,
especially in the USA, by a decline of overall oil
production. The main IOR/EOR techniques that have
been employed since that time are in thermal heavy oil
(steam, ISC) and in gas injection (CO2 miscible and
WAG variations). Shell has been one of the leading
players in setting industry standards and has best
practices and wide experiences in the design,
implementation, and execution of IOR/EOR projects all
over the world.

Given the low oil prices over the past decade, only
a small number of new IOR/EOR projects have been
implemented over the past decade. The number of gas
injection projects is slowly growing, but the number of

IPTC 10146
Challenges and Strategy for Increased Oil Recovery
W.M. Schulte, Shell Intl. E&P
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
RF (%)





Average RF of 34%
2 IPTC 10146
thermal and chemical projects especially has seen a
sharp decline over the past 10 years. However recent oil
price developments combined with the evolution of
advanced technologies and current outlook on
supply/demand forecasts have resulted in a new
emphasis on improving Recovery Factors through
implementation of EOR processes.

This paper reviews portfolio aspects, target setting,
EOR technologies and enabling factors.

Recovery Factors in the portfolio

The wide distribution of ultimate recoveries in Fig.1 is
the result of the interplay of multiple factors such as
reservoir characteristics, development costs, commercial
terms, and oil price forecasts.

Our industry faces in each new project the need to
understand and quantify unique subsurface
environments. High ultimate recovery factors are
presently found in reservoirs with good fluid mobilities –
original or induced- and connectivity, with adequate
reservoir energy to drive fluids to the producing well. The
cost of drilling and in-fill drilling wells is also an important
element in reaching high recoveries. A list of field
features and subsurface themes associated with high
primary/secondary recovery is included in Table 1.

• Homogeneous at all scales
• Good connectivity
• Good (induced) fluid mobility
• Gravity stable at reasonable rates
• Appropriate natural drive
• Non-fractured
or homogeneous, densely fractured
• Clean, sweet oil
• Thick oil column, large areal extend
• Good, cheap accessibility
• Good monitoring (seismic, etc) ability
• Consolidated sands
• Low residual Hydrocarbon saturation
• Good and accurate understanding

Table 1: Fields characteristics of high-recovery prototypes

Field names can be readily identified across industry
with recovery factors above 60% or even 70% levels.

These fields will most likely include many items of
the list. As clearly illustrated by Figure 1, however, the
vast majority of fields are far from reaching those levels.
They include for example heavy oil fields, complex
carbonate fields which often show complex
fracture/faulting patterns, very sour accumulations, fields
with high well cost resulting in low well density and poor
Target setting for Recovery Factors

A consensus exists in industry that we can do better
in many fields by having a more proactive longer-term
minded reservoir management approach. Such
approach includes gathering of key data early in the
production life of the field and continuously through its
life to identify boundaries, undrained/unswept oil, and
inflow/outflow profiles to improve well utilization.
Production optimization is highly impacted by the ability
of the operator to create and use cost effective reservoir
management options based on that data.

Figure2: Contribution of Different Activities to Higher
Ultimate Recovery

The target of field optimization is illustrated in
Figure 2 by green wedge that moves the distribution to
the right. It makes the point of the bigger opportunities to
be found in presently low recovery fields.

In general tertiary EOR, as being practiced
presently, can contribute by a 7-15% increase in ultimate
recovery. This is illustrated by the second wedge in
Fig.2. The unit cost of this EOR oil is often higher than
has been allowed under oil price scenarios of the past

When setting ultimate targets the value of the oil
resources and its contribution to local economies have to
be considered as well. Therefore operators should set
an aspirational target to reach 70%+ recovery factors at
the end of the life of any field. This aspiration will be
materialized driven by market forces and integrated
existing and novel technologies including low cost wells
and facilities, improved fluid distribution mapping and
reservoir imaging, among many others. It also
constitutes a driving force for research as a 70% target
may require new techniques not deployed or invented
yet. In general one can expect that initially the unit
technical cost to reach this target will be much higher
than we have seen in recent field developments.
IPTC 10146 3
A strong motivation to pursue high recovery factor
targets is the recently renewed discussion about peak
oil. Based on current proven oil volumes and production,
the global R/P ration is about 40 years. Including the fact
that expectation reserves are higher and that reserves
replacement is a key attention area, this still suggests
that within the next 20 years we may see a peak in
global oil production. World energy demand is already
shifting further to gas and non-conventional energy
supplies. The challenge of extracting more oil from the
known resources will help to ‘buy time’ for other energy
sources to build up and meet the ever growing energy
demand. IOR/EOR will play an important role. Especially
for complex EOR project this will not happen overnight
as history has shown that such projects often take 10 or
more years to be fully implemented.

A portfolio of fields can be analyzed for applicability
of existing EOR techniques. Such analysis allows to
recognized focus areas and challenges for that portfolio
of fields. We will discuss below existing techniques and
special challenges.

IOR/EOR Technologies Today

We will here refer to the big themes of EOR,
namely, thermal, gas, and chemical flooding.

Thermal recovery (air or steam injection) has
focused traditionally on heavy oil accumulations. Very
significant volumes of heavy oil are produced cold in
during a low-recovery –around 15%- early
phase of the life of the fields. Thermal energy will be
required in a second phase to bring these recoveries
above 50%. Some prime examples of excellent recovery
factors are provided by mature steam projects in
California (Tulare, Midway Sunset among others) with
excellent quality sands and low well costs. Application of
thermal processes for offshore heavy oil is still a large
challenge. The techniques of air and steam injection are
extending its realm to lighter oils where it contributes not
only to viscosity reduction but also by providing
additional driving mechanisms to oil production.

Gas flooding for medium and light oils has mainly
been practiced under miscible conditions. Hydrocarbon
gas sourcing is a growing hurdle as it is too valuable as
a resource to be used for tertiary floods. CO2 is being
very successfully used in the west Texan carbonates of
the Permian Basin where it is sourced from naturally
occurring deposits in Colorado.

Figure 3 illustrates the contributions of primary,
secondary, and tertiary recovery for a number of West
Texas fields. The graph clearly shows that 70% is
possible, even in complex carbonates by the incremental
EOR contribution of 10 to 15%. The availability of CO2
at costs that could be absorbed by the tertiary floods has
resulted in a plethora of projects that share a technology
base and culture.
Figure 3 also illustrates that the
aspirational Recovery Factors has only been achieved
when there was also a good secondary development.
CO2 flood

CO2 flood
CO2 flood
West Texas Ultimate Recovery Efficiencies
Figure 3 Recoveries of a number of fields in West Texas
CO2 Flood

In areas where CO
natural deposits are not
available its sourcing will be highly facilitated by a)
environmental and market forces that will strengthen the
business drivers for low pressure sequestration and b)
the maturity of new separation technologies to deliver
medium pressure CO
from contaminated gas
reservoirs, which will unlock huge volumes of natural gas
while freeing up sizeable volumes of CO

Recently, re-injection of sour gas for IOR/EOR is
being embedded in development planning e.g. in the
Harweel cluster, Oman and in the huge Kashagan Field,
Kazakhstan. Contaminated gas thus is being turned from
a show-stopper to a key enabler for high recovery
Alternatively nitrogen, although expensive to
manufacture, could be used mostly in immiscible
displacements. It’s being injected quite successfully by
Pemex in their Cantarell field where its adding more than
half a million barrels per day of incremental production

Chemical flooding
includes polymers to
improve mobility control, surfactants to reduce interfacial
tension and remaining oil, and combinations of the
above two in reactive systems where alkaline is added to
react with acid groups in the oil to provide an additional
insitu generated surfactant (an Alkaline-Surfactant-
Polymer package). Although significant research and
pilot testing was done in the 80’s, chemical flooding is
much less common EOR method than thermal & gas as
injectants are more expensive so floods require greater
engineering for targeted placement and robustness to
unknown subsurface conditions remains an issue. There
are hardly any surfactant injection projects and only a
few polymer projects, mainly in China.
4 IPTC 10146

Figure 4: Oil Cut in Marmul Polymer Injection Pilot

Figure 4 illustrates the successful performance of
the inverted five-spot of the Marmul polymer flood
conducted by Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) in
the 80’s. The reversal in oil cut few months after starting
of polymer injection is apparent. This technique proved
more successful than a parallel pilot on steam injection.
In view of low oil prices in the 90’s, secondary methods
based on water injection have been pursued first. At the
moment a large scale implementation of polymer
flooding is again being considered.

Microbial EOR, being actively researched, may
bring a cost effective way to improve sweep efficiency
and reduce interfacial tension
. This process has been
looked at for a long while. Some field applications are
known but they have not reached full maturity yet.
However, as better understanding is acquired more
applications may well be seen in the next 20 years.

Contribution of EOR to Oil Production

According to a recent survey
the incremental
contribution of EOR to the base production of projects
represents almost 3 million barrels per day, or more than
3% of world oil production.

Figure 5 shows how this production is allocated to
the various methods. Thermal recovery is responsible for
more than 40% of the current production. Its main
contributions come from steam drives in California and
Indonesia, cyclic steam stimulation in Canada, China
and Venezuela.

Hydrocarbon (miscible) flooding is the second EOR
contributor with above 25% of the total production. Main
projects are found in Alaska and Algeria. As discussed
above CO
miscible is dominated by the Permian Basin
in Texas.

The Middle East is becoming quite active as a
number of projects will be on stream shortly in Oman,
and others are being considered across the region.

Incremental EOR production -
global volume by EOR method
total = 2930 kbpd
Figure 5: Contribution of EOR Methods to Oil Production

Challenges in EOR applications

We will now discuss three key challenges that can have
distinct impact on improving the recovery factor and
enable execution of EOR methods. These are the
descriptions of fractured reservoirs, gas sourcing for gas
injection and application of Smart Fields techniques.

Geological complexity in fractured carbonates

Fractured carbonates offer a special challenge as
they allow no viscous pressure build-up and therefore
require being gravity drained. They are complex flow
systems that need to be fully characterized to capture
the multiplicity of heterogeneity factors that impact flow.

Figure 6 is an illustration of Shell’s SVS tool
of a
large fracture corridor system where the lower right
shows part of a detailed fracture model, with each color
representing a different fracture set as distinguished by
fracture properties such as location, orientation, and
aperture. The upper left shows how that part of the
model has been translated to a simulation grid, with
colors indicating fracture spacing in X direction (blue =
large, red = small) for each grid block.

IPTC 10146 5
Figure 6: Shell’s SVS model of “large” (vertically
continuous) fracture corridors

SVS interacts with the static and dynamic packages
to produce integrated reservoir models. It is capable of
data integration and visualization, constraints definition,
and 3D fracture modeling (either explicitly or via dual
porosity/permeability models).

A prime area where such techniques to describe the
fracture system are critical, is Gas Oil Gravity Drainage
(GOGD). The traditional method of GOGD of has been
practiced for many years in the Fahud field in Oman
The density difference between the oil and the
surrounding medium will cause oil to flow in the matrix
vertically. The oil will not exit the matrix unless a barrier
to vertical flow is encountered. Capillary hold-up at the
bottom of the draining block prevents complete oil

Currently SVS is also used as key input into new
methods like Thermally Assisted GOGD which is now
being advanced by PDO in Qarn Alam to increase
production rates by viscosity reduction
. In addition
gas dissolution may contribute by viscosity reduction and

Other technologies under active research to potentially
allow waterflooding a densily fractured reservoir include
wettability modification to a more water-wet behavior to
promote imbibition via surfactant or heat, in combination
with forced imbibition, via water pressure pulsing above
the capillary threshold.

Gas Sourcing

Miscible Gas flooding is long recognized as one of
the most effective enhanced recovery methods for light
oils. Application has however been limited to those areas
where gas export to markets is limited. With the
increased importance of environmentally sustainable
power generation and the introduction of CO2 taxes, the
use of CO2 in integrated EOR and down stream projects
has considerable attention.

A key source of CO2 will be waste exhaust gas from
power plants, which need to be cleaned up and
pressurized for injection. The industry is actively looking
at improving these techniques or use power generation
systems which can more easily generate high pressure
CO2, like coal gasification.

An alternative source with high concentration of CO
would be the waste stream produced from clean up of
highly contaminated natural gas fields with mean
concentrations of CO
above 20%. There are an
increasing number of these reservoirs in recent

The cost of treating such streams with existing
amine processes quickly outstrips the value of the clean
gas produced. Therefore the use of such sources implies
that new gas separation techniques need to be
Other gas clean-up techniques exists such as
membranes and pressure swing absorption. However
neither of these would be able to handle the high flows
(100’s MMscf/d) associated with the contaminated fields
to be produced.
An alternative technology such as centrifugal gas
separation – a technology derived from isotope
- is being considered. It looks favorable for
application to natural gas
. However for a pure gas
process, separation rates are reportedly on the slow
. Other higher-pressure technologies are also
being investigated for very high throughputs

In the absence of hydrocarbon or CO
sources, high-
pressure air injection (HPAI) in deep, light oil, low-GOR
reservoirs offer a viable and field proven alternative

Smart EOR

The Smart Field
approach of closing loops (real
time monitoring, modeling and decision making) and
capturing the value at well, reservoir, asset, and regional
level, offers a unique opportunity for the most effective
deployment of EOR. This is of utmost importance in
EOR projects where injectants are costly, are to be used
extremely efficiently, and where understanding recovery
and unswept areas can make or break a project.

Two examples of technological advances that
enable the Smart Field concept are given below, on
monitoring and reservoir/well management technologies
in horizontal wells.

6 IPTC 10146

As stated above there are great opportunities to
increase ultimate recovery by applying the adequate
EOR technology in combination with a robust monitoring
program of a multiple of techniques. Shell’s Peace River
test program
provides a good example of this approach
and illustrates that monitoring gives insight into non-
uniform responses and leads to optimize field
Shell’s Peace River leases hold more that 7 billion bbl of
9 °API oil with viscosity above 100,000 cP at reservoir
temperature. The initial recovery process in areas of the
field without injectivity consists of cyclic steam
stimulation. Steam is injected above parting pressure for
about three months creating a network of fractures
propagating from the well. The success of this process
depends not only on achieving commercial production
rates but also on maintaining an acceptable oil/steam
ratio. This is particularly key at high gas prices.

A comprehensive monitoring program was
implemented to understand how steam (heat) is
deployed throughout the reservoir via fracture
propagation and growth and where pockets of unheated
oil are located after each new cycle. This information is
needed to develop a reservoir/well management
program to access virgin tar and avoid reheating areas
where oil has been swept by previously injected water.

The magnitude of vertical and horizontal principal
stresses, which determine the orientation of fractures,
cross over within the depth of the reservoir. Fractures
that start in a vertical direction turn horizontal as they
propagate upwards, creating dilation zones to
accommodate injected fluids.

Repeated seismic time-lapse, continuous
microseismic and surface tilt meter data have been
acquired since late 2002.

Figure 7: Monitoring technologies at Peace River

Figure 7 illustrates the use of a variety of monitoring
tools deployed at a multilateral pad of 10 wells at Peace
River. Surface deformation was monitored continuously
through 50 tilt meters at surface with the capability of
recording tilt changes as small as 10
radians. The
surface uplift can be translated into the reservoir strain
field ( reservoir dilation). Collection of microseismic
events provided a valuable disturbed rock map that
brings complementary information to the surface
deformation data. Significant microseismic activity is
seen to occur when the fracture pressure is reached
and the net injected fluid volume is increased beyond its
previous maximum. Changes in measured time-lapse
seismic response are associated to changes in
reservoir’s compressibility caused, in turn, by
temperature changes, micro-cracking and hydraulic

Figure 8: reservoir thickness changes

Figure 8 illustrates the interpretation of tilt meter
data in terms of reservoir thickness changes over one
injection cycle. The rapid motion and non-uniform
distribution of reservoir strain is apparent from this plot.

All of these monitoring techniques indicate complex
behaviour in this complex recovery process and help to
advance our technical understanding, which is needed to
optimize recovery efficiency.

Well/Reservoir Management in horizontal wells

Due to their higher productivity and reach,
horizontal wells have enabling developments that
otherwise would have remained economically unviable.
However, horizontal wells offer limited cost-effective
options for modifying inflow and outflow profiles. Zonal
isolation and well control are key to improved sweep
efficiency and high ultimate recovery. Especially for EOR
with its high cost for injectants, profile control is of the

IPTC 10146 7
A number of well technologies have reached a level
of maturity to be considered field proven and cost
effective. In particular the use of expandable clads and
swellable elastomers has come to the forefront in two
important applications

1) To shut off high permeable zones and fractures,

2) To segment the well, which creates the possibility for
remedial action after water/gas breakthrough in one of
the segments. In these cases the use of packers for
zonal isolation in permeable formations is marginally
effective, as fluid will by-pass the packer through the



Figure 9a) swellable band
9b) Typical layout for a full joint seal

Application of low-cost swellable elastomeric
bands to full joints – illustrated in Figure 9 – provides a
new dimension to zonal isolation and well control.
Elastomers that swell in either a water or an oil medium
are now available for separate or combined applications.
Surface operated downhole valves can be installed
between two adjacent bands along the well, to convert a
long horizontal in a series of independently operated
shorter horizontal wells. This will enable Smart Field
production optimization

Figure 10: Segmented long horizontal well employing
swellable elastomers

Figure 10 shows the segmentation concept. Blue arrows
indicate watered out zones where downhole interval
control valves are shut off, while other oil producing
zones are fully open for production.

Alignment to meet the IOR /EOR challenges

Next to technology advances as discussed above,
there are a number of key factors that need to be aligned
to realize high ultimate recoveries in all assets:

- Life Cycle Planning: to provide the long term plan for
an asset, making sure the right facilities and well
provisions are made at each step not to place tertiary
reserves at risk. The application of ‘Smart EOR’ in all
fields as discussed above will require pre-investments.
Also right-time pilot testing of novel concepts is part of
life cycle planning. Some testing can only be done early
in a field life to enable key decisions later.

- Long-term commitment to high ultimate recovery:
putting in place the mind-sets and long-term views of the
maturation processes required to reach the targets. This
will be built on a commitment at all levels in the
organization and using selection criteria that favor both
short term and long term optimization.

- A sustainable development approach to business:
with full consideration of the costs associated to a
minimum environmental impact. Sustainable here refers
also to solutions that will satisfy the long term objectives
of all stakeholders in the country.

- Capability Development: EOR requires a more labor-
intensive approach to operations and engineering. Long-
term career commitment in EOR technologies is to be
encouraged and supported. It is only through the
practice of EOR that true capabilities are developed.

- Long-term R&D: Traditional EOR recovery processes
have been around for decades. However advancements
in well construction and completion, availability of
traditional and new injectants, monitoring methodologies,
surface processing, among many others, have a
profound impact on the way EOR is practiced.

- Ability to Integrate: EOR requires full integration of
technology, people, and top-down as well as bottom–up
commitment. Integration of all these elements is
essential to success. It boils down to bringing together
people, technology, and company culture; neither is of
much value without the others.

Integration will go well beyond the asset
development itself. More and more opportunities may be
possible to integrate upstream and downstream e.g. via
linking field developments with optimum use of by-
products as seen for example in the link between field
development, LNG and use of the waste CO2 streams.
Fracture Fracture
Beam Pump
Seal ICV
Well produced through permanently installed ICV’s
Closed Closed
8 IPTC 10146
Shell is very active in searching for such solutions in new
project proposals.

- Balanced financial conditions: EOR requires higher
capital investment with often a delay in the net-benefits.
Development contracts are an important consideration
as they will ‘create behaviours’, e.g. they can focus
attention to short term, cheap solutions, quick wins or
lack of long-term investments. To facilitate EOR,
contracts should encourage investments in testing and
applying EOR, realising a win-win in the long run for all

EOR Strategy

All of the above aspects can be captures in a
framework that can help a company or region to define
clear targets for EOR applications. We have already
discussed a few main steps:

Understand your portfolio,
Define targets, EOR options and potential timings
What synergies and value-added options are possible

Two main steps remain to be added:

How can Alliances help: Alignments between National
Oil Companies, Service Companies and Operators can
help to generate effective proposals which crosses
boundaries. Each has its strength and a good
cooperation may shorten the time to realising options.

Prioritization: The final step is to assign financial and
human resources based on a ranked order (materiality),
targets and a time line. Agreed targets from the highest
level in the company create clarity for all the previous
steps to be executed efficiently.

This framework can be represented in a model, given in
Fig.11. In a number of areas within Shell, such
framework has resulted in a clear EOR strategy which is
currently being pursued actively.

Figure 11: A model for Building a Strategy

-The energy challenges facing the world today and in the
coming decades makes a very compelling case for
increasing ultimate recovery.

- Presently average recovery factors industry wide are in
the low 30s. They can be substantially increased by field
optimization and EOR.

- Advances in monitoring and control will provide
invaluable support to the success of EOR projects

- EOR faces many challenges as we move to more
complex reservoirs in most hostile environments. These
challenges need to be addressed via an environmentally
sound, long-term minded, hydrocarbon maturation

- A company strategy will facilitate a) prioritization of the
use of existing or to-be-developed capabilities across the
portfolio, b) alignment of synergies of NOCs, ISCs, and
IOCs, and c) identification of the best options at asset
and regional level.


The author thanks the management of Shell E&P
Technology for their permission to publish this paper.


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