World oil demand is increasing as emerging economies need more energy to increase their living standards. Estimates, shown below, are that by 2030, China and India as emerging markets will import over 70% to 90% of their fossil fuel needs (1) . Coupled to a continued high and growing demand for oil, makes this a robust market for the next 30 years.
Currently, the conventional approach is to aggressively explore and develop new fields. This has led to a growth in drilling deeper wells and looking to ‘off-shore’ sites for new production of ‘light’ crude. However, as recent events in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrate with the British Petroleum incident and the resulting clean-up costs and loss of credibility, this approach has risks. It will definitely be more costly with the ensuing additional oversight and regulation. With the world's supply of 'medium to light' crude (>20o API) getting smaller and more costly to obtain, the market for heavy crude will grow to satisfy the additional demand. Even though it is estimated that the US dependence on imports will decrease, the percent of 'heavy oil' as an import (and as a domestic source) will grow (2).
However, the refining capacity for heavy crude without upgrading is relatively small (only about 25% of current US capacity (3)) and a majority of heavy crude is located in remote areas where recovery and transport are difficult and expensive.
We are proposing developing a supercritical water process based on known, published process chemistry to extract the heavy oil/bitumen and then 'hydro-crack' to achieve API's of >20o to access the true value of the world's heavy oil supply, especially domestic supplies in Canada and the US. Currently, medium to light oil sells for about $70 to $80 per barrel while heavy crude oil is discounted by $12 to $15 per barrel to make up for the additional cost to recover, transport and process the oil. With supercritical water extraction and treatment, the heavy crude is upgraded to a medium to light crude that is higher value and can be further refined at more facilities worldwide. In addition, it can be transported and stored using 'conventional' crude infrastructure already in place and leverage that capital and operating investment.
Using supercritical 'brine', such as the water found with typical oil reservoirs or seawater (14) is the key difference and what makes this unique. Based on the cited experimental work, heavy crude can be 'hydrocracked' more efficiently to make a medium to lighter crude in a relatively simple process. It has been demonstrated that in one step, sulfur is converted to H2S for easy separation, metals can be removed (25) and the heavy organic molecules are 'hydrocracked' to shorter chain compounds with less coking than obtained with conventional coking and hydrocracking methods.
There are various opportunities for deploying Supercritical Brine Extraction and Upgrading (SCBEU ):
• Use SCBEU units at bitumen and oil sand...