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Heavy Oil Challenges in Alaska

by Franklin L. Foster, Ph.D.
   - based on a presentation by Chris West, BP

           There are substantial reserves of Heavy Oil in Alaska.  In order to produce this oil, most of the innovations we have seen in the Lloydminster Patch have been (or are continuing to be) tried and evaluated. These include: CHOPS, Horizontal and Directional drilling, various Thermal Enhanced Recovery thechniques, etc.  However, it is estimated that production costs in Alaska are at least five times those in the Lloydminster Region.  This is due in part to the remote location but also, of course, to the necessity of operating in an artic environment.  These factors result in greatly increased costs for constructing infrastructure, for deploying thermal enhanced recovery techniques, and for preserving and protecting the more fragile artic environment. 

One example of a unique environmental concern is the need to avoid melting the permafrost.  To this end, well penetrations must be limited in number, and casings and tubings are vacuum insulated.  Even the risk of melting the permafrost from the underside is guarded against with the use of thermal siphons to augment the natural insulating ability of the layers of shale.

Heavy oil in Alaska is present in multiple reservoir levels, each with their own unique characteristics.  It is theorized that this heavy oil represents various migrations and biodegradations of formerly light oil. However, the industry is focusing on developing realistic plans for the production of these enormous reserves.  To guide this process, the emphasis has been on SHOT (Sustainable Heavy Oil Technology).  Many of these innovative technologies have been developed or improved in the Lloydminster Region.  We are already seeing them contribute in an important way to the safe, sustainable, and economic development of Heavy Oil reserves in Alaska.