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guest ed June.



12:15 PM

Page 16

Guest Editorial
J. Roger Hite, Business Fundamentals Group; George Stosur, Consultant;
Norman F. Carnahan, Carnahan Corp.; and Karl Miller, Consultant


The purpose of this editorial is to call attention to the need
to establish definitions for the terms Enhanced Oil Recovery
(EOR) and Improved Oil Recovery (IOR). At present there
is considerable confusion in their usage. In fact, a recent
informal survey within the EOR/IOR Technical Interest
Group (EOIO TIG) revealed a wide range of views. Some
thought the terms were synonymous. Some believe that IOR
covered just about everything that could be done to increase
production, including infill drilling and reservoir characterization. There was a range of other views in between as well.
Of the two, the term EOR has the clearer definition.
Originally, it was used to refer to a variety of new recovery
processes that were aimed at recovering oil left behind after
waterflooding. Involving new developments in chemistry and
physics, EOR increased reserves by mobilizing residual oil
trapped by capillary forces and oil that was too viscous to be
effectively displaced by waterflooding. The key processes were
chemical, miscible, and thermal flooding. All of them came
into popularity in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, at a time
when producers were looking for additional reserves and
prices were rising. Because waterflooding was a secondary
process, these processes were sometimes referred to as tertiary
recovery. All were developed and commercialized for oil left
behind or not recovered by (secondary) waterflooding.
The term IOR came into popularity later in the late 1980s
and early 1990s, as interest in EOR processes began to
wane. Some EOR processes were failing for technical and
economic reasons. All were becoming less attractive as
product prices declined and opportunities increased elsewhere. To stimulate attendance, organizers of conferences
and symposia started adding the term IOR to define a scope
that included not only EOR, but something more. The
thinking was that expanding the scope beyond EOR would
attract more attention and therefore more participants. But
the term IOR never received a clear definition.
With this much confusion surrounding two terms in
common usage, some agreement on the definitions would
be helpful and would clarify communications. The best way
to gain consensus around these definitions would be to
form an industry committee, perhaps under the auspices of
the SPE or the World Petroleum Congress. We would like
to recommend the formation of such a committee. To get
the discussion started, we would also like to pose the following definitions:
1. EOR should refer to reservoir processes that recover oil
not produced by secondary processes. Primary recovery
uses the natural energy of the reservoir to produce oil or
gas. Secondary recovery uses injectants to re-pressurize the
reservoir and to displace oil to producers. The main realization of this concept is waterflooding, although gas rein-


jection for pressure maintenance is also included.

Enhanced oil recovery processes target what is left. They
focus on the rock/oil/injectant system and on the interplay
of capillary and viscous forces.
2. EOR is also sometimes referred to as tertiary recovery. In the case of thermal applications, this has always been
a source of confusion. Steam processes are often the second
process to be applied to a given field, after primary, rather
than tertiary after waterflooding. In our opinion, tertiary
is best thought of as referring to the third round of recovery
processes to be developed by the industry (after primary
and waterflooding), rather than as the order in which recovery processes are applied to a given field.
3. IOR refers to any practice to increase oil recovery. That
can include EOR processes, as well as practices to increase
sweep such as infill drilling, horizontal wells, and polymers
for mobility control or improved conformance. In practice,
such items as reservoir characterization or simulation
(which are nearly always part and parcel of any recovery
concept) are included in planning, execution, and analyzing the technical and economic results. Arguably, such de
facto supporting activities should also be recognized within
the definitions. But this approach muddies the definitions
considerably, and we recommend they not be included.
4. The term exotic recovery has also been used at times.
We recommend this be dropped. The connotation is
impractical or quixotic. We should focus on what is economical and practical instead and drop the use of the
term exotic.
5. The term advanced oil recovery was also used for a
short time. Likewise, we believe this term does not add
value and should not be used.
In conclusion, there is a need to establish mutually
acceptable definitions for the terms EOR and IOR. We suggest an industry effort be commissioned to resolve the
uncertainties in the definition of these terms and would
value the opinions of the readers of JPT.
J. Roger Hite, SPE, worked for Shell for more than 30 years, primarily in engineering and technology management. Since leaving Shell,
he has been a principal of Business Fundamentals Group, a management and technology consulting service in Houston. He is cochair of
the EOIO TIG and is chair of the Digital Energy Study Group of the
SPE Gulf Coast Section. George J. Stosur, SPE, is a petroleum consultant in the Washington, DC area and has worked for Shell,
Chevron, and the U.S. Dept. of Energy. He has been an SPE
Distinguished Lecturer. Norman F. Carnahan, SPE, is a consultant
with Carnahan Corp. in Houston. Karl Miller, SPE, is based in
Calgary and works internationally in heavy oil exploitation. He also
worked for several years in coal gasification and oil shale exploitation.

JUNE 2003