E&P from A to Z at RIPI
By Shiva Saeedi
Most oil producing countries do not have upstream technology and they always depend on services and equipment provided by proprietors of upstream technology.
In Iran, the bulk of such needs has been covered thanks to the Research Institute of Petroleum Industry (RIPI).
Mohammad-Reza Kamali, head of the Upstream Department of RIPI, tells "Iran Petroleum" in an interview that Iran has made good progress in developing software required by the upstream sector.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Q: Would you please tell us about the evolution of activities of RIPI Upstream Department?
A: To answer this question, let’s have a flashback. This center was established in 1959 under the title of Petroleum Engineering Labs with the objective of conducting industrial projects and providing petroleum industry lab services, particularly in operational sectors. This center grew into Exploration and Production Research Center in 1989 after structural reforms.
At present, the RIPI Upstream Department comprises three independent research centers: Geology Research Center which includes three specialized groups of geochemical research, geophysical research and petroleum geology; Petroleum Engineering Research Center which includes rock and fluid groups providing all related lab services, as well as drilling technology, enhanced recovery and production research groups; Reservoir Study and Field Development Research Center which conducts reservoir study and simulation and presents different scenarios for the development of fields.
More precisely, the Upstream Department carries out all phases, from A to Z, of the exploration and production (E&P) value chain which involves research and lab services.
This value chain starts from exploration and ends in production after evaluation. Special unique capabilities have been developed in exploration.
Q: Which sectors are these capabilities related to?
A: They are defining petroleum systems and developing 3D models in order to more precisely evaluate and identify unexplored reservoirs. Another capability pertains to the study and assessment of unconventional reservoirs. In this regard, the technology to be used in nonconventional reservoirs as well as relevant studies has been institutionalized. The objective is to make recovery from unknown reserves where production is impossible with customary technology. These unknown deposits include shale gas, shale oil, gas hydrates, methane, coal seam, dense and tar sands. If we want to produce from these resources we have to look for new and sophisticated technologies in order to stimulate them. For instance, if a reservoir contains heavy crude oil we have to warm it up by thermal methods for production.
Q: Have any relevant projects become operational?
A: Projects like shale gas in Lorestan or gas hydrates in the Sea of Oman have already been done or under way. Good capability has also been achieved with regard to the study of carbonated reservoirs. Currently, an inclusive project under the title "Abadan Plain Reservoirs Study" is under way with exploration being one of the objectives.
Q: Would you please explain about fluid and rock, as well?
A: In the evaluation sector, the Upstream Department has updated and advanced lab equipment in the fluid and rock sector. It is one of a kind in the country. The rock and fluid of many Iranian fields, including onshore and offshore fields, are analyzed at RIPI; therefore, a databank containing coherent and complete data has been established. This database could be used for RIPI projects and is also available to National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and its operators.
In the geochemical sector, the labs at the Upstream Department are unique in the country and in the region. Quantitative and qualitative studies for potential onshore and offshore oil and gas recovery have been successfully carried out through benefiting from such facilities as experienced manpower and technologically sophisticated devices.
Q: Would you please explain in simple terms what activities are done at the lab?
A: After being extracted from source rock, oil starts migration and is trapped in porous or permeable rocks known as reservoir rocks. At these labs, all processes occurring in the source rock are analyzed to make clear when the rock has been mature to produce oil. The depth and geological period of oil production are also determined. The amount of produced oil, the amount of trapped oil and gas and also the amount of oil that has exited the system are analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively in the studies and surveys.
Quantitative and qualitative assessments are done on oil source rocks and the geological history of the rock is reconstructed by advanced software. It will become clear when the source rocks have become sedimentary, how much organic material has existed, how much organic material has been transformed into oil and gas. The routes of migration are also determined and it will become clear which oil traps or migration routes should be chosen as the exploration objectives.
Q: Has this project become operational? Where?
A: This technique has been applied to Persian Gulf Pearl Project in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. In this project, state-of-the-art technologies known as biomarkers have been used and the oil families have been identified. Then the oil source rocks have been linked together. Moreover, a number of oil families that have been active in the region and existed in oil traps, have been identified and studied in terms of the type of hydrocarbon.
Q: You referred to geophysics lab. What measures have been taken in this field?
A: The Upstream Department has had geophysical activities tool. In fact, this branch of science acts like geologists’ eye for studying different layers of Earth. By applying this technology, different layers of Earth are identified and anticlines are marked. Furthermore, it would be possible to draw changes that have affected the properties of rock or draw fractured layers in order to assess the depth, magnitude and amount of deposits. In this regard, there are software, hardware and experienced people at the Geology Research Center.
Q: What measures have been taken with regard to field development?
A: At the Research Center for Reservoir Study and Field Development, integrated and cohesive work has been done based on data provided by geology, petrophysical, geophysical, petroleum engineering and lab groups. This data is used for integration and development of reservoir static model. In the following stage, by using data related to the history of production from the reservoir, pressure data, well testing data and other available data, the dynamic model of the reservoir is simulated. The output of these studies is used for designing a practical scenario for long-term exploitation of reservoirs and maximum oil production. In other words, by conducting these studies, the recovery rate could be enhanced to see which method would be the most applicable to enhanced recovery. In the secondary recovery, such methods as gas injection and water flooding are used in order to stabilize the reservoir pressure or raise it with a view to boosting production. Therefore, the result of these studies determines the method to be used for enhancing reservoir recovery rate.
Q: Would you please explain also about the activities of the production sector?
A: In the Upstream Department, there are units specializing in production. These units conduct research on water control and management. When the amount of water produced by the field is on the rise it has to be controlled in order to spare oil production any impact. Sometimes, it is necessary to carry out hydraulic fracturing or artificial lifting. Throughout production, there might be such problems as wax and asphaltene production. Therefore, certain devices have been designed to forecast wax or asphaltene production at the reservoir. In this way, the necessary forecasts could be made and preventive plans could be envisaged to resolve problems. Meantime, we may see the collapse of layers throughout drilling. If that happens the well will be damaged and production will be delayed. Identifying defective layers is part of the activities of the Upstream Department. The drilling mud has to be designed in consistence with the conditions of well reservoir and formation. There might be also problems with cementing. In case of inappropriate cementing the casing installed inside the well may leak or even move. RIPI is among few research centers specializing and experienced in designing ultra-light cement by using nanotechnology. The cement produced at RIPI is used in oil wells and is currently used on industrial scale.
Certain activities have been done with regard to elastic cement production. This cement could be used when the layers are affected due to the movement of salt and the casing collapses. Silicate mud has been also produced and it could replace oil-based mud.
Q: What are the advantages of silicate mud?
A: Oil-based mud spec does not meet environmental requirements and it damages the environment. Therefore, fluids, environmentally friendly cements and mud are developed. In most research studies, one consideration is related to the environment. Drilling and exploration must be such that the environment will be harmed at minimum level possible. In other words, chemicals that are less harmful are used. Furthermore, phytomaterials which are not harmful to the environment are used. All these studies have reached the stage of production and they can be used in projects.
Q: What strategy has the Upstream Department pursued with regard to these activities?
A: Over the past two years, we have tried to organize our affairs and work out a strategy consistent with the petroleum industry needs. There are currently six strategies which I do not want to go through in detail. The goal pursued by all our activities is to conduct practical and fundamental research for meeting petroleum industry needs and providing scientific and lab services in order to resolve the petroleum industry problems in E&P sectors.
In addition to these, there is an Upstream Software Research and Development Center where key petroleum industry software has been developed with existing technical knowledge and experience. Some of this software is being used in the petroleum industry.
Q: What projects has the Upstream Department been involved in over recent years?
A: One of these projects is the Persian Gulf Pearl in which the findings of research in different sectors including geology, geophysics, petrophysics, petroleum engineering, modeling and geochemistry have been used. As the geological part of this project, reservoir rocks on 183,000 sq km of land have been studied. Moreover, 900 oil and gas wells have been studied and samples have been taken from some of them. The findings have been analyzed by using cutting edge technology. The data obtained from these analyses have been used as input in 1D, 2D and 3D simulators and modelers. Moreover, for the first time in Iran, 1D to 3D modeling has been performed for all fields.
This modeling helps reconstruct oil reproduction, migration and trapping in order to conduct surveys and analyses. The output from modeling is the ranking of exploration objectives and examining the uncertainty of these reservoirs in order to precisely determine risks. This project will be finished in August and it is now more than 96% complete.
Q: What projects have been carried out with regard to unconventional resources?
A: That has been done for the first time in Lorestan region. Oil and gas shale have not been studied in Iran, and of course their recovery is not economical at the moment. Since over recent years, shale oil and gas recovery has become cost-effective due to technological progress in the US and there is such potential in Iran the preliminary studies have been conducted to prove that Iran enjoys such potential. It may be not economical now, but it is of high significance for us to know the amount of deposits we have. It is also important for the future generation. If in the future technology proves to be cost effective, the next generation will use it.