Using biosurfactants in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) yields benefits from an environmental, social and governance (ESG) perspective, according to Creedence Energy Services, which has plans for the compounds in the Williston Basin.

Bakken Shale

“The Williston Basin holds a vast reserve of trapped oil,” said President Kevin Black. “In fact, most experts suggest only 10-15% of oil is being recovered with current technology, so a clean, ESG-friendly technology that enables mobilization of an additional portion would result in a meaningful increase to the estimated ultimate recovery of Bakken wells.”

The U.S. Geological Survey recently estimated the Williston Basin’s Bakken and Three Forks formations within Montana and North Dakota hold estimated, undiscovered unconventional reserves totaling 4.3 billion bbl of oil and 4.9 Tcf of natural gas. Escalating production decline rates in the Bakken have been observed in newer wells drilled toward the center of the basin.

“Recovery of original oil in place is estimated to be less than 15% in most tight shale formations, so EOR is a crucial part of maximizing revenues for oil operators,” said Marty Shumway, technical director of Locus Bio-Energy Solutions.

He explained that EOR applies to measures for achieving higher oil recovery from a well at an economically feasible production rate.

Locus said that it recently became Creedence’s biosurfactant oilfield treatment distributor across the Williston Basin after North Dakota Industrial Commission-funded trials showed “impressive” biosurfactant EOR well treatments results in the Bakken Shale. After four months, the biosurfactants increased ongoing oil production from two wells by more than 70% and generated more than $130,000 in additional per-well revenue, according to Locus.

Shumway said that drilling new wells to offset steep production declines is “difficult in the current capital-constrained environment…Operators need successful and cost-effective alternatives to traditional EOR methods.”

Rising inflation and supply chain woes, along with shareholder pressure, have contributed to exploration and production companies practicing capital discipline.

“Maximizing oil recovery from existing wells not only provides economic benefits, but also reduces the carbon footprint and environmental impact of North Dakota’s oil and gas industry,” said Black. “We believe biosurfactants will play a pivotal role in making the Williston Basin the leader in sustainable oil production. Declining wells pose a significant challenge to North Dakota’s overall oil production, especially within the tight formations common to Bakken shale.”

Recent state data show an uptick in North Dakota’s oil output but at a slower growth rate than natural gas production.

Canola And Sugar Beets

As an alternative to conventional chemical surfactants used in EOR to increase production, Locus’ biosurfactants – made from renewable agricultural materials such as canola and sugar beets – “match the performance of synthetic surfactants at a fraction of dosage rate,” said Shumway. 

The manufacturing technology used by Locus overcomes traditional barriers to deploying biosurfactants in the oilfield, namely prohibitive production costs and scalability, said Shumway. In addition, he said biosurfactants can be modified for various upstream and midstream applications.

Shumway said the biosurfactant can also support the region’s agricultural sector.

“In addition, the treatments are made up with renewable agricultural raw materials native to the Bakken — opening up opportunities for local production centers and benefits to the agriculture industry economy as well,” he said.

Although the Locus-Creedence deal applies to the Williston, Shumway said his company’s biosurfactants “have been used successfully” on wells in the Appalachian and Permian basins and the Eagle Ford Shale.

Shumway pointed out the Railroad Commission of Texas has approved the biosurfactants as a tertiary EOR, referencing the rule in the Texas Administrative Code. He explained the designation qualifies operators in the state for a 50% severance tax reduction for 10 years on all oil produced on a lease, provided a sustained production response is realized.

“In an enhanced oil recovery well stimulation in the Permian Basin, biosurfactants increased oil production by 116% and gas by 24% after a single treatment, with only one pumper truck and 0.25 tons of carbon/1,000 bbl of oil — compared to 2.5 tons/1,000 bbl with a traditional frack,” Shumway said.“Traditional refracturing for EOR typically costs 30% of drilling and completions…Biosurfactant stimulation only costs an average of 3% of the cost of drilling and completions.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently projected that Permian oil production will top 5 million b/d next month.

Shumway said biosurfactants “are proving themselves as an asset to the oil and gas sector and stakeholders by showing that ESG and financial challenges can be successfully addressed without sacrificing performance. They maximize per-well production, profitability, and ESG compliance while minimizing the need for new drilling.”