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Heavy, dense oil does not flow easily and so is hard to extract. But we have over 20 billion barrels of heavy oil in Canada alone and accessing it will help to meet the world’s growing demand for energy. We have been working to develop ways to extract this resource more efficiently.

Lightening oil in the ground

Heaters in the ground warm solid oil shale

Traditionally companies first extract heavy oil and then process it to produce a lighter, more valuable product. Much of the oil has to be left in the ground. To extract more oil with greater ease, and cut the usual number of processing steps, we have developed a way to lighten the oil while it is still in the ground, known as our in situ upgrading process.

Heaters warm the heavy oil to separate out the lighter, cleaner oil from the solid carbon residue, known as coke. We tested this process on a small scale in the laboratory before testing it in our Peace River oil sands, Canada.  We drilled 29 wells for the field test – 18 containing heaters, three producing wells and eight observation wells. We started up the test in 2004 and produced over 100,000 barrels of light oil.

Using this method recovers an average of 50% of the oil compared with the typical 20% for the traditional method we apply at our existing Peace River operation.

Heating solid oil shale

Some reserves of potential oil and gas lie in fine-grained sedimentary rock, or shale. We have been finding a way to heat the shale and releasing oil and gas from the solid mixture in the rock, known as kerogen.

In this process, known as the in situ conversion process, we heat the solid shale at temperatures of 343-399°C (650-750-°F) to extract light oil and gas. Once at the surface it takes fewer processing step to convert this lighter oil and gas into products such as diesel, petrol and jet fuel.  We used this in situ upgrading process at one of our field tests in Colorado, USA. Between 2003-2005 we recovered 1,700 barrels of high quality light oil and associated gas from oil shale here.

Now that we have successfully demonstrated our in situ technology on a small scale we are looking into how to apply it on a commercial scale.

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The Shell Peace River Complex uses enhanced oil recovery techniques to recover bitumen from underground.