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Changes Predicted For Shale Gas Technology, EOR

A shakeup in the shale gas industry involving the acquisitions of technology providers and developers is coming this year, along with grudging growth in the enhanced oil recovery (EOR) sector, according to Mountain View, CA-based consulting/research firm Frost & Sullivan (F&S).

By 2025, half of the oil produced in the United States will come from some form of EOR, according to an F&S report. Currently, EOR only accounts for about 7.5% of total U.S. crude production.

EOR services were valued at $17.1 billion in 2013, and F&S's report predicts that the segment will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 22.4%, reaching $70.4 billion by 2020.

With the popularity of advanced technologies in the shale sector, particularly related to hydraulic fracturing, F&S is predicting that there will be more companies trying to acquire technology providers and developers.

North America generally, and the United States particularly, is a "hotbed of innovations with respect to shale gas development, and this heightens the U.S. opportunities for funding innovative technologies from the private and government sectors, or both,” according to the F&S report, "Future of Shale Industry Tied Strongly to Advances in Enabling Technologies."

The adoption of "smart integrated systems" will increase to improve efficiency and reduce failures, said co-authors Lekshmy Ravi and Wai Fun Kee. "Failure prediction systems, leak detection software, and advanced microseismic technologies would play an important role in the efficacy of shale gas development."

Beyond 2020, F&S sees shale technology being dominated by waterless fracturing, advanced microseismic systems, and smart pipeline leak detection systems.

"Waterless fracturing technologies, though already in existence, would assume even more importance in the near future and also advancements would be seen as giving positive results to potential adopters," Ravi and Kee said.

For the EOR segment, the changes may be less dramatic, but not necessarily any less important, according to F&S's "Strategic Analysis of the North American EOR Market." The market for EOR is expected "to grow rapidly" as oilfields deplete and oil extraction becomes more complex, said the report’s three co-authors, Mahesh Radhakrishnan, Chirag Rathi and Roberta Gamble.

They deconstruct three types of EOR: gas injection, thermal (steam) recovery and physiochemical. In 2013, thermal accounted for 55% of EOR, gas 43% and chemical (2%). Chemical EOR has not shown any significant growth due to long payout times and a longer break-even point, according to F&S, which added that this could change with the "right technique of injecting the chemical."

Noting that economics will influence the selection of the types of EOR used, F&S said that with the increased government emphasis on carbon capture and storage as a response to climate change, "the number of CO2-EOR projects is expected to double by 2020, and by 2025, 50% of the oil produced in the United States will be through EOR, of which half will be from CO2-EOR."

Today, however, F&S found CO2-EOR overall production "weak," due to "poor infrastructure" to supply CO2. "Technology plays a very significant role in implementing new methods to extract oil from difficult environments [oilsands, extra-heavy oil, etc., but] the long time taken to design novel, fully functional technologies is holding back EOR."

The authors conclude that, with time, EOR will grow. "Focusing on ultimate recovery rather than immediate recovery for short-term profit is necessary to keep depletion rates low and help companies exploit their reserves better."

Overall, North America is estimated to have 450 billion bbl of "remaining oil in place," after primary and secondary recovery, F&S said. Of that, about 84 billion bbl is technically recoverable.

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