NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 27, 2008

Pumping oil is surprisingly inefficient.  For decades, companies relied on ground pressure and crude secondary well-flooding methods that recovered just one-third of a field's reserves.  Now, through enhanced oil recovery techniques, companies can collect up to three-quarters, dramatically lengthening a field's useful life, says Popular Mechanics.

For example:

  • Injecting carbon dioxide into the ground increases reservoir pressure and the fluidity of heavy, gummy oil, enabling it to escape rock pores and flow toward wells; it takes about 8000 cu. ft. of CO2 to get an extra barrel of oil.
  • Injected steam reduces oil's viscosity, which increases flow rates; Shell claims that in the past decade steam injection has enabled it to produce more than a billion additional barrels of oil from a California field discovered in 1911.
  • Chemical surfactants can form a soapy film in the well, lubricating oil so it flows to well bores; a quarter of the oil from China's massive Daqing field, which produces more than 1 million barrels per day, is recovered by this means.


  • When introduced into an oil reservoir, microbes plug small channels in the rock, forcing oil through larger pores (they also generate surfactants and carbon dioxide); one Texas field boosted production by 43 percent -- but it took two years.
  • In a recent development, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., has conducted lab tests on a device that is mounted on well-bore pipes, where it uses ultrasound to heat flowing oil, rendering it less viscous.

The technology that is being brought to bear is phenomenal," says author Robert Bryce.  "What we are seeing today in offshore drilling is the terrestrial version of the space program."

Source: Brad Reagan, "America @ $100/Barrel: How Long Will the Oil Last?" Popular Mechanics, April 2008,

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