Using raw natural gas for enhanced oil recovery

May 25, 2018

Credit Amy Sisk

Later this year, a pilot project will begin in the Bakken to use raw natural gas for enhanced oil recovery.

Denver-based Liberty Resources. Liberty is partnering with the Energy and Environmental Research Center on the pilot project.

"We had an opportunity here that's been utilized elsewhere in conventional oil reservoirs," said Liberty president and CEO Mark Pearson. "Now there is a low-cost opportunity here."

Pearson said this technique is used in Alaska, in vertical wells.

"So this is kind of a different twist, to use it on unconventional property," Pearson said.

Pearson said the EERC has had successful “in-lab” trials. He said he’s hoping this technique will increase the recoverable oil from horizontal wells by 30 to 50 percent. Pearson said there’s a lot of oil in the Bakken and Three Forks formations, much of it hard to recover.

"I remember an e-mail chain going around, that there's more oil in the Bakken than reserves in the whole of Saudi Arabia," Pearson said. "It's true -- we're talking about oil in place in the Bakken, as opposed to proven reserves in Saudi that will flow out of the ground."

Pearson said right now, about seven percent of the Bakken crude is recoverable.

"We're hoping to make its 20, 30 percent," Pearson said.

"This has the potentail to be a win-win-win," said North Dakota mineral resources director Lynn Helms.

One win would be to relieve pressure on natural gas infrastructure.

"It'll be utilized in the field," Helms said. "It won't end up in a gathering pipeline or a processing plant."

Helms said it could mean a substantial increase in oil recovery from the same wells. And he said natural gas liquids would be temporarily stored underground.

"That liquid could be produced and monetized later, once we have the infrastructure to really deal with that," Helms said.

And Helms said it would help reduce flaring.

The pilot project will be underway later this year.