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Hess receives go-ahead for Bakken EOR

US independent has been given approval by North Dakota regulators to proceed with an EOR pilot project that it hopes will help boost recoveries in the Bakken shale play

The North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) has approved an enhanced oil recovery (EOR) project proposed by Hess for the Bakken Formation shale play. The US firm hopes that the pilot project will result in improved productivity from a prolific regionestimated to hold 167bn bl of oil in place—where only a small proportion of hydrocarbons is currently being recovered.

EOR is well-established in conventional formations, including parts of the Permian Basin where vertical drilling still takes place. However, it is still a relatively new technique in unconventional plays, and Hess’ project marks another step in efforts to apply the process to shale and tight formations.

“EOR has yet to find wide application in unconventional resource plays, but it does appear that industry is looking at it seriously,” says Hess, adding, though, that most companies are currently handling their information confidentially, as an EOR breakthrough could give a company a significant competitive advantage.

An EOR breakthrough could be a positive step for an industry that finds itself increasingly under pressure

This makes it difficult for Hess to assess how its experience in the Bakken compares with EOR efforts in other shale formations. Based on publicly available information, though, the challenges are similar across different unconventional plays. “For example, it will be important to have completions that enable gas to be injected efficiently, and it will be important to find areas where the formation is able to contain injected gas,” the firm says. “We will also need to have access to infrastructure to supply, inject and then process the gas being used for EOR.”

Hess is opting to pilot the use of foaming chemicals alongside gasinstead of CO2—for this project.

“They think that by doing that, they will be able to build pressure more rapidly and force gas into these very small pore spaces in the Bakken,” Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), told the NDIC.

Hess believes that using this foam-assisted hydrocarbon gas injection technology could ultimately lead to a higher percentage of the stranded oil in the Bakken being recovered than if other EOR methods were used. The company notes that produced hydrocarbon gas is also readily available in the region.

167bn bl – Bakken oil resources

The pilot project is a strategic collaboration with the US Department of Energy (DoE), the University of Wyoming (UW) and petrochemicals heavyweight Dow Chemical–with Hess acting as the operator. It is due to be carried out over a two-year period.

The project will target newer Bakken wells near Ross in Mountrail County in the state’s northwest. It builds on previous experience that Hess gained over 2016-18, when it carried out a vertical well EOR pilot project. The company also hopes that its years’ worth of experience developing EOR technologies in the Permian will now be of help in the Bakken.

Helms told the NDIC that he expected information about the EOR process to spread “very quickly” throughout the oil industry if Hess’ pilot project yields positive results. He hopes it will have other benefits for North Dakota, potentially addressing flaring in the state if associated gas output can be diverted towards EOR instead.

Unconventional drillers in North Dakota and across the US more broadly are increasingly looking at how to boost recovery rates from their wells, especially given the high decline rate in shale plays. An EOR breakthrough could be a positive step for an industry that finds itself increasingly under pressure. However, given Hess’ timeframe for the project, any breakthrough is still likely to be some time away. Results from the pilot over the medium term will provide a better indicator of how likely such a step change is.

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