By Martin (Marty) Shumway
New innovations are making the shift to green technology easy and beneficial
Chemical usage in the oilfield is near ubiquitous by oil and gas production operators both large and small throughout the world.
Oilfield chemistry is used to control and manage risk associated with several common production and transportation problems, including mineral scaling, wax & asphaltene deposition, gas hydrates, corrosion, biofouling, foaming or emulsifications, viscous flow, hydrogen sulfide and several other common problems. They are also used in enhanced oil recovery operations. Oilfield chemicals are generally selected based on performance, price, stability, environmental restrictions, and compatibility. Each user of chemicals may select them preferentially based on company or individual priorities.
One of the most common oilfield chemistries is surfactants. Surfactants are a class of chemicals that are present in many oilfield chemical solutions designed for scale & corrosion inhibition, friction reducers and flowback aids, drilling fluids, and enhanced oil recovery. Many surfactants have high toxicity, but there are also certain classes of surfactants with lower toxicity—for example, anionic and nonionic surfactants versus cationic surfactants. Toxicity of cationic surfactants can be reduced with several well understood techniques.
So, what about green oilfield solutions?
The U.S. EPA defines green products as “pollution prevention at the molecular level, designed to reduce or eliminate the use or generation of chemicals that are hazardous to human health or the environment.” In general, green solutions in the oilfield include chemistry with lower exposure toxicity (inhalation, ingestion, skin absorption, carcinogenic), reduced flammability or flash point, higher biodegradability, lower bioaccumulation, and sustainability both in application and production.
Over the years, several chemical suppliers have introduced green chemicals into the oilfield, but with variable results. There are several ways to develop greener chemistry, some of which include designing the chemicals to be soluble in the water phase versus the oil phase, which helps to reduce bioaccumulation concerns. Achieving biodegradability for a chemical, while retaining temperature stability, persistence in application, and stability for transportation and storage is especially challenging. Furthermore, achieving biodegradability, where smaller molecules are preferred, is often directly at odds with achieving reduced bioaccumulation, which is often addressed by increasing the size of the molecules to minimize the ability for the chemical to cross cell membranes and accumulate.
One of the most promising opportunities in green oilfield chemistry is biosurfactants. Biosurfactants are a special class of surfactants that are both highly biodegradable and low in toxicity. Biosurfactants are both fast degradable and/or cleavable, which minimizes the inherent toxicity of surfactants. However, biosurfactants have historically been too expensive for oilfield applications. Until recently, commercial biosurfactant use has been limited to the personal care markets and other high-margin applications.
Locus Bio-Energy Solutions found a solution to bringing green biosurfactant solutions to the oil industry with consistent, proven results. The company has developed a fermentation process to produce a high-quality and pure family of biosurfactants in large volumes, cost-effectively, that outperform chemical surfactants. This represents a step-change in technology for the application of green chemicals to oilfield applications. These biosurfactants allow the multiple benefits of green chemicals to be realized in the oilfield in a cost-competitive and effective manner.
Using this innovative approach, the company has commercialized two biosurfactant treatments: AssurEOR FLOW™ for paraffin remediation and AssurEOR STIM™ for non-acid reservoir stimulation. These green solutions won New Technology Development of The Year at the prestigious 2019 Oil & Gas Awards for both the Northeast and Texas regions. The judges praised the AssurEOR treatments for “making massive strides in the industry’s perception of green technology, showing that environmentally–sound solutions are effective and financially viable in the field”. Treatment results have been excellent, with successful deployment of both treatments with over 50 clients and major operators in 500+ wells across 3 top oil basins.
Green technology, such as the AssurEOR biosurfactants, can offer a multitude of benefits over traditional treatments. Using innovative production methods, such as the fermentation technology at Locus Bio-Energy, solutions can be customized to individual wells for maximum performance. They also improve safety, minimize HSE issue, reduce down-time and lower environmental impact. Most importantly, they offer unmatched increases in oil production—reducing the need for new drilling and extending the life of declining wells.
For example, when placed in contact with the producing formation, AssurEOR FLOW paraffin remediation treatments have demonstrated clear, sustained, long-term increases in production rates. Oil production increases above forecast production have averaged 40% in the Appalachian Basin and 25% in the Permian Basin in over 90% of wells treated.
Green oilfield technology like the customized AssurEOR treatment program can offer a sustainable and profitable approach to well maintenance and stimulation that eliminates the need for multiple products.
Biosurfactants: Produced by Nature. Perfected by Locus.