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For a conventional oil well, engineers drill a hole down to the oil reservoir and insert a steel pipe, known as a casing. They pierce the casing in areas of the reservoir containing oil to allow it to enter the pipe. Then they introduce another steel pipe that the oil flows through to the surface.

Over the producing life of a well the amount of water produced together with oil can increase to as much as 90%.

Swelling to fit

Swellable elastomers

Swellable elastomers are synthetic rubber seals that can help stop water seeping in to the well and mixing with the oil.

We now fit rubber devices, known as swellable elastomers or EZIP (Expandable Zonal Inflow Profilers), around some production pipes. The rubber swells on contact with water, cutting off water zones but allowing oil to keep flowing.

A Shell scientist came up with this concept and in early tests the oil flow increased by up to ten times. Our engineers applied the technology for the first time just 12 months after the idea. Using elastomers is cheap, as there are no extra costs for installation if they are inserted in along with the pipes.

Elastomers have tripled the volume of oil being produced in many wells and cut the level of water present by up to 70%. They are used globally, including in more than 150 Petroleum Development Oman wells where they increased production by an estimated 1.5 billion barrels in under five years.

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