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Creedence Energy Services to test green technology in enhanced oil recovery

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With cost pressures limiting the ability to invest in new wells, oil companies are looking for new ways to get the most from existing wells. A Minot company has partnered with a green technology firm to test a plant-based product’s ability to enhance production in North Dakota’s oil fields.

In a 7-0 unanimous vote, the North Dakota Industrial Commission recently awarded grant funds from its Oil and Gas Research Program to Creedence Energy Services of Minot to conduct trials of biosurfactant treatments developed by Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, which has operations in Texas and Ohio.

The grant will assist with a percentage of the cost of chemicals. Creedence, an oil-field chemical provider in the Williston Basin, also is making a significant investment in the pilot project.

“We’re always looking to find solutions to aid production for our customers,” said Eric Nelson, technical services manager with Creedence. “Locus was also looking to try and partner with someone who could help get their technology into different basins. Primarily, they’ve been working in Pennsylvania and Appalachia and down in Texas, and they’ve had trouble cracking into the market in North Dakota. With their chemistry, and then our application knowledge and contacts in the basin, it was a pretty good marriage.”

Nelson said the demand for a more efficient, green product to enhance oil recovery has existed even before regulatory changes and the decline in the price of oil tightened margins for oil companies.

“Capital expenditure money isn’t available. The drilling money coming down from corporate isn’t being made available, so to maintain and/or increase production, they need to start finding new solutions. This kind of fits that bill,” he said.

Sometimes companies will refracture a well to get more production, which is an expensive process that requires thousands of gallons of water.

“We’re trying to find a sweet spot where we can make these jobs as effective as possible, but pay themselves back in a short timeframe, so that we can provide an operating expense option for increased oil recovery, as opposed to a capital expense, which might not be available,” Nelson said.

The technology to be tested on legacy conventional and Bakken/Three Forks unconventional wells is based on successful technology that Locus BE has offered to customers in other oil basins.

“We’re tweaking the formulations to make it work in the Bakken,” Nelson said. “We’re doing extensive research right now and we have been for months. Hopefully, we’re finishing up here in a week or two, to determine the best of the blend that scientifically should have the best shot of recovering the most incremental oil in the Bakken/Three Forks and other formations.”

Creedence aims to have some test sites in place in four to 10 weeks, creating activity for some oil service companies.

Nelson said the pilot project should immediately show a production response, with some good information produced in the first couple of months. However, it will take time to determine the longer term benefits.

“This is part of what makes this chemistry novel is that it will absorb onto the formation and slowly release over time,” he said.

The Industrial Commission has agreed to subsidize costs of the well stimulation trials over 18 months.

Nelson said this type of oil enhancement is a foray into a new market. While there have been previous attempts to use natural surfactants, this is a very distinct product, he said. It also has advantages over synthetic products used to improve well production. There is considerable science behind natural surfactants that indicates they are more efficient, Nelson said.

“We just have to fine tune the application to make the economics make sense,” he said, “but their minimum effective concentration is typically orders of magnitude lower than a traditional surfactant.”

The Locus surfactant is a fermented product that uses a vegetable oil. The product being developed for the Bakken will use commodities traditionally available to the Locus plant in Texas, but there is potential for eventual use of North Dakota agricultural commodities.

“If we create enough demand, where a fermentation plant would be needed in North Dakota, canola oil makes a lot of sense. Canola oil and sugar, from sugarbeets, would make a lot of sense here,” Nelson said.

He noted a fermentation plant would require 10 to 12 full-time employees and 36,000 pounds of sugar and 12,000 gallons of canola oil a month.

Creedence has been shipping oil, water and mineral samples from North Dakota to Locus BE, which is conducting much of the initial research into developing a product suited to North Dakota. Part of the state grant money is available, though, to also establish a test laboratory in Williston. Nelson said having that local testing ability will accelerate efforts to develop blends for the different formations found throughout oil-producing western North Dakota.

Local testing also will support ongoing monitoring, Nelson added. The monitoring will examine how much oil production is occurring beyond the well’s initial production projection and how much of the increase is due to the biosurfactant chemistry.

Established in 2003, the Oil and Gas Research Program encourages environmentally sound exploration and production technologies and is funded from the state’s share of the oil and gas production tax and oil extraction tax. Up to $10 million is available each biennium.

“Locus BE’s team of experts and the NDRC’s meaningful contribution are both paramount in our effort to advance the sustainability and financial security of North Dakota’s oil industry,” said Kevin Black, president at Creedence, in a news release. “Our shared efforts in deploying this award-winning EOR (enhanced oil recovery) technology will help create untold potential for not only oil producers, but also for the agriculture community by creating a bridge through value-added manufacturing of these nature-based products.”

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