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Saskatoon synchrotron oil research aims to improve well efficiency

Groundbreaking research at Saskatoon synchrotron could mean millions for oil industry
WATCH ABOVE: Groundbreaking research at Saskatoon synchrotron could mean millions for oil industry.

Researchers at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) in Saskatoon have started using a synchrotron in hopes of improving the efficiency and environmental impact of heavy oil extraction.

Scientists have developed a cylinder to act as a miniature oil reservoir, which is translated into a 3D image using X-ray light.

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The research, led by the University of Calgary (U of C), is meant to address depressurized heavy oil wells caused by oil and sand extraction.

“That’s the end of it, so you’ve stopped production because there’s simply no way to get the oil out. There’s no more energy left,” said Ian Gates, U of C professor in the department of chemical and petroleum engineering.

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The X-ray images show how oil and sand behave, allowing scientists to consider how to manipulate the resource by releasing gas from an oilhead.

The gas creates foam, which adds pressure to the well and improves extraction.

“The dynamics of producing a fluid from a porous media become quite different because you have it in this structured fluid system,” Gates said.

“That’s what makes it so beautiful.”

Typically, only about ten per cent of the resource can be drawn from a heavy oil well.

Even a one per cent improvement in extraction would mean millions of dollars in economic benefit, Gates said, adding the project is friendlier for the environment.

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“We design processes where we generate a lot less CO2 per unit oil produced, making these processes a lot cleaner, so that’s another objective of this research,” Gates said.

Saskatoon’s synchrotron is the only place in North America suited for the study, according Toby Bond, an associate scientist in the innovation division at CLS.

“It’s critical for what they’re trying to do. In this case, trying to look at a quickly changing system on a very small scale,” Bond said.

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Researchers hope their findings will be tested in the field within the next year.