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Home > Alberta's Resource Inventory > Hydrocarbons > Crude Oil > Resource Development > Completion and Servicing > Oil Recovery Methods > Enhanced Oil Recovery

Resource Inventory

Enhanced Recovery

Different types of oils after recoveryFurther oil production can be obtained by injecting water ("water-flooding") or natural gas to maintain reservoir pressure and push oil out of the rock. This is called secondary recovery.

More advanced methods are referred to as tertiary recovery. The most common tertiary recovery method for light and medium crude oil is miscible flooding. In this procedure, natural gas liquids (ethane, propane and butane) are injected into special injection wells. When dissolved, these liquids reduce the surface tension and viscosity to help release the oil from the reservoir rock.

Carbon dioxide has also been used to a limited extent in Canada for miscible floods. This has the added advantage of using a greenhouse gas that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Three such projects are operating in Alberta and Saskatchewan. However, this technique is only suitable for certain types of oil fields.

Secondary recovery through water floodingIn heavy oil and in-situ bitumen production, enhanced recovery generally involves the application of heat, most commonly by steam injection. Major improvements in heavy oil and bitumen recovery have been achieved by Steam—Assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) which uses parallel pairs of horizontal wells for steam injection and oil recovery.

Even with all these techniques, the average recovery in the light oil fields is a little more than 30 percent of the original oil. The remaining resource represents billions of cubic metres of oil that has been discovered in Western Canada but cannot be produced economically with existing technology.

Petroleum Communication Foundation. Our Petroleum Challenge: Exploring Canada's Oil and Gas Industry, Sixth Edition. Calgary: Petroleum Communication Foundation, 1999. With permission from the Centre for Energy.

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