Devon Energy Corp. is looking for opportunities to capitalize on its expertise in using carbon dioxide in enhanced oil
Devon is producing about 5,700 barrels of oil a day from its Beaver Creek operation in central Wyoming. That is about 9 percent of the company's U.S. production.
It relies on the injection of liquefied carbon dioxide into an old oil field to boost production, said Thom Holmes, Devon's manager of production engineering for the Rockies region.
Holmes said it is the only project of its kind for Devon, which acquired the property in 2000 when it bought Santa Fe Snyder Corp.
The field, which has been producing oil since 1954, produced about 250 barrels a day at the time.
Holmes said Devon began studying the field in search of an economical way to boost production.
Enhanced production with carbon dioxide became a viable option when oil rose above $80 a barrel, he said.
Holmes said Devon uses carbon dioxide from an Exxon Mobil Corp. field that's about 100 miles from the Beaver Creek operation.
Devon spent more than $100 million for pipelines, a carbon dioxide injection plant and related equipment. The company began injecting carbon dioxide in 2008.
Officials had expected the Beaver Creek project to yield as much as 4,600 barrels of oil a day, so Holmes said they were pleased to be able to surpass that figure.
He said the field — which includes about 18 production wells and as many injection wells — is expected to produce as much as 12 million barrels of oil.
It already has yielded about 3.5 million barrels for Devon.
“This is oil that would not have been produced in any other way,” Holmes said.
Oklahoma City's Chaparral Energy Inc. has been using carbon dioxide to spur oil production since the late 1990s, based on CEO Mark Fisher's experience with water floods at Exxon.
“We think it's a very big advantage,” Fisher said.
He said traditional production efforts typically only get about 20 to 30 percent of the known oil in a reservoir.
Flooding the reservoir with carbon dioxide can release another 10 to 15 percent of that oil, as the CO2 causes the oil to swell so it can be moved to the surface.
“It's a very good, low-risk type process,” Fisher said.
He said carbon dioxide-enhanced oil recovery is used in about 100 U.S. oil fields. It accounts for about 5 percent of domestic oil production.
Fisher said such operations are not more widespread because they require a CO2 source, technical expertise and control of a large existing field.
Chaparral buys its carbon dioxide from fertilizer and ethanol plants, where the gas must be compressed and cleaned before it can be used in enhanced oil recovery.
Fisher said Chaparral gets about 3,800 barrels of oil a day from such operations, but that figure is expected to grow quickly thanks to the company's investment of $150 million this year.
Holmes said Devon is searching for other fields to apply its expertise in enhanced oil production with carbon dioxide. That means studying the geology and reservoir properties of a given area.
He said it can take a team of engineers, geologists and computer specialists as much as a year to gauge the viability of such projects.
“We know where a lot of oil exists in the ground all over this country,” he said.
Holmes said central Wyoming has many other fields that might benefit from enhanced recovery operations, although access is an issue because of the amount of federal land in the state.
Wyoming lawmakers have allocated $2 million to help address right of way issues with the U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, part of an effort to support pipeline development that could boost enhanced recovery operations.