Enhanced oil recovery lab a draw for researchers

Memorial University of Newfoundland, Hibernia management work on maximizing offshore returns

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on August 21, 2014

The new Hibernia Enhanced Oil Recovery Laboratory emerges like a scientific secret garden inside Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Bruneau Centre for research and innovation.

Created over the past year, in a space on the first floor once used for core storage, the lab has a touch of industrial chic — with tool box-like work stations and moveable, flexible fume hoods that snake down from the ceiling above.

Large pieces of state-of-the art equipment shine, reflecting every penny of promise afforded by more than $15 million in contributions to its development and operation to date.

The lab is

the brainchild of Lesley James, an assistant professor and Chevron Chair in Petroleum Engineering in the university’s faculty of engineering and applied science, and leaders at the Hibernia Management and Development Corp. (HMDC), notably president Jamie Long.

It is the only facility of its kind in Canada and focuses on studying enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques specific to the conditions offshore Newfoundland and Labrador — beginning with the Hibernia oil field for at least the next five years.

The provincial government, through the Research and Development Corp. of Newfoundland and Labrador, has also contributed, with representatives remarking on the potential for EOR work to ultimately allow for more oil to be produced from the province’s existing offshore fields.

According to James, who divides her time between teaching and EOR studies, the facility has the benefit of everything from a staff member dedicated to quality control (Kim Power) to a dedicated back-up power system.

The stand-out is a machine capable of creating a “mini-reservoir,” for testing the movement of various fluids; oil, water, and gas through the rock, under changing conditions, reflective of Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore environment. It is a collection of parts encased in a giant oven, with over a million and a half dollars worth of pumps alone, that can be used to move various fluids through rock samples.

“We’re waiting for the last few components to arrive and then we’ll actually start with experiments this fall,” James said.

The EOR studies, simplified to their most basic, look at what might be done to release oil still trapped within the subsea rock, to move it through the microscopic pores in the oil-producing reservoir rock to the production well.

It requires the study of specifics, like interfacial tension. That, as an example, means looking at the strength of the interface separating the oil and injected fluid such as water or gas.

“Some additives, like surfactants, we add to the water ... and we reduce this (interfacial tension) and this helps us to extract more oils from the pores,” said Mahsa Moayedi, a masters student in oil and gas engineering, who was busy in the lab Wednesday morning.

After describing the concept behind her work, Moayedi released a single drop of oil inside a nearby machine using a small needle.

The machine — an interfacial tension meter — looks not unlike what might be spotted on the counter of a downtown coffee shop, but it can actually be used to change the pressure being placed on the oil drop, or temperature. An adjacent computer screen reflects back her resulting data.

Not far away, research engineer Mohammad Kowsari worked on gathering measurements of the viscosity of fluids at high temperature and pressure, with Samantha Butler. Butler is heading into a final year of high school in Mobile. It was her last day at the lab, as she was finishing off a summer placement under the Women in Science and Engineering summer student employment program.

“I’ve learned a lot about engineering and about MUN,” she said, before adding she plans to continue studies in science and engineering, when she moves to post-secondary studies.

As an advocate for science and engineering outreach, James said she has recently committed to developing simple experiments for a show-and-tell day, an open house, at the lab. While an initial concept at this point, she said she is hoping to hold the event later in the fall.