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Applying Canadian Heavy Oil Innovations in Venezuela

by Dr. Franklin Foster, 2006
[note: this article made possible by support and funding from the Petroleum Society of CIM, Lloydminster Section] 

            We have been working on overcoming the challenges of heavy oil production in the Lloydminster area for over 70 years.  It should not be surprising then that many of the innovative procedures and technologies developed here are being welcomed in other parts of the world, especially in those areas dealing with heavy oil.  When it comes to heavy oil, there are few areas where it is heavier than in parts of Venezuela.  In the Orinoco fields, for example, the oil is so heavy, it is referred to as Extra Heavy Oil, the technical definition being oil between 7° and 11° API compared to the Lloydminster area with API measurements in the 9° to 18° range.  [For more about API degrees – click here]

             Of course, producing Extra Heavy Crude would not be possible without our Progressing Cavity

Pump production.  The second area of innovation being applied is directional drilling.  As in the local fields, so in Venezuela, many well bores are drilled off the same pad.  The total vertical depth may only be about 1000 meters but the horizontal reach may exceed five to ten times that distance. And, this horizontal reach is the product not of only one well bore but of a network of directional drills looking for all the world like the root network of a plant.

            Operating this complex network of underground wellbores is where a third area of innovation is applied - electronic gauges that monitor and/or control various operational elements.  There are currently case studies being performed with certain producers where as many sensors as required by the customer are installed - the limit of gauges depending entirely upon the depth of gauges related to current consumption of said gauges and the capacity of the conductor to handle the amperage required.  One case study utilizes up to 12 downhole pressure/temperature electronic sensors connected to surface by a single encapsulated cable.  These gauges may be analog or, increasingly, digital or quartz– allowing the data to be fed into surface data capturing units and then on to remote networks.  These gauges run in cost from $5,000 to $30,000 but they are part of what allows the possible monitoring and operation of the well(s) from remote locations via internet connections.
            With all these electronic components, the Venezuela operation is vulnerable to the considerable lightening activity in the area.  Wells, and their associated electronic equipment are protect by surge protectors and, increasingly, by power backup capabilities and software modifications which prevent the well from being shutdown due to brief power outages or brownouts.

              While current political conditions may retard the development of Venezuela’s large reserves of heavy and extra heavy crude oil, the technological innovations of the heavy oil industry could, if unhampered, efficiently and safely produce large quantities of petroleum resources from these fields.  In short, we have the technology - it is other factors that are making the production of Venezuelan heavy crude problematic.