creedence lab worker

A lab worker at Creedence Energy Services works on a biosurfactant that's showing promising results for enhanced oil recovery in The Bakken.

Two agricultural commodities grown in the MonDak are part of the secret sauce behind a biosurfactant that could one day be manufactured locally to boost well economics in the Bakken.

The commodities in question are sugar beets and canola oil. Fermenting them together produces a nanosurfactant that is smaller than a single strand of DNA, and may be the key to unlocking more of the Bakken’s tightly held oil.

Cracking the code for enhanced oil recovery in the Bakken is something of a Holy Grail for the oil and gas industry. Even a 1 or 2 percent boost to the productivity curve of wells could be highly economic.

The biosurfactant is being tailored to the Bakken by Creedence Energy Services in partnership with Locus Bio Energy Solutions, which has already successfully trialed this product on wells in Texas and Pennsylvania. Bio Locus sought Creedence Energy out, CEO Kevin Black told the Williston Herald.

North Dakota, meanwhile, provided a $250,000 grant for Creedence to prove the technology out in the Bakken, which is being used to test the biosurfactant on 1- and 2-mille laterals, as well as conventional wells.

The small size of the biosurfactant is the real key to the science of this product, Black says. While DNA is 2.3 nanometers thick, the Creedence biosurfactant is smaller still, at 1.2 nanometers.

“The magic of this chemistry is that we’re able to penetrate further and deeper into the rock to mobilize more oil,” Black said during a panel on innovation during the Williston Basin Petroleum conference.

Not only that, but the product doesn’t come back out of the rock all at once. It acts like a time-release medication, providing a boost over a long period of time. In Pennsylvania, for example, the product continued providing increased production for more than 540 days.

“We’re not talking about multimillion dollar refracs or very expensive EOR projects,” Black added. “We’re talking about low capex treatments that can be ROI’d in less than 90 days.”

Nor does the process require any special equipment.

“We can simply put this away with a frac pump or a rig pump, and essentially squeeze it into the formation using a huff and puff technique,” Black said.

Results of the biosurfactant so far look very promising, Black said, with production boosts ranging from 50 to 100 percent on wells that were in steep decline.

On a 2008 well drilled on the eastern front of the Bakken — flatlining at 20 barrels per day and headed lower — the treatment initially spiked at more than 70 barrels, then sustained a 42-barrel per day rate for 30 days or so so far. Similar results were seen for a 2009 well, and a third test will be upcoming.

“Our goal is to sustain this production over the course of the year, and provide an overall incremental oil production of 15 percent above the previous forecast, which was 20 barrels a day,” Black said. “Now here’s what also is very exciting. If we do that, we will ROI this well two and a half times.”

Based on data from Pennsylvania, Black also believes the technique can be used more than once on the same well to continue boosting production.

“Of course, that is Pennsylvania and this is the Bakken, I get that,” Black said. “but we believe because of the pore throat size and the type of shale play here in the Bakken, there is true applicability and opportunity for this chemistry.”

Once the technology is proven out, Black believes it could help keep production going in the state even if completions are slower.

“When you stack up all of the wells that are under 150 barrels a day, that represents 670,000 barrels per day of production,” he said,. “So what if we could just do these EOR stimulation treatments on those wells and increase it by 25 percent? You can see we can increase production to over 840,000.”

Locus Bio has already developed a process that allows the surfactant to be produced at scale, Black added. It’s just a matter of proving that the process works well for Bakken shale.

If that is realized, Black envisions the product being manufactured in state for Bakken oil wells.

“Canola oil and sugar beets are two crops we have an abundance of right here in North Dakota,” he said. “So we believe that if we can scale this up, we can literally manufacture a bridge between energy and agriculture.”

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