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Innovative DOE Technology Demonstrates Potential for Significant Increases in Safe and Responsible Production from Depleted U.S. Oil Fields

Successful Pilot Project Improves Recovery by more than 300 Percent in Mature Illinois Oilfield

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that an innovative technology has successfully improved oil recovery at a 106-year old Illinois field by more than 300 percent. This method of extraction could help pull as many as 130 million additional barrels of oil from the depleted field, which is past peak production using traditional drilling.

"The Energy Department is making critical investments in innovations today that are helping the U.S. find and develop every available source of American energy," said Secretary Chu. "Today’s successful pilot projects are just the beginning. The Energy Department is committed to supporting and demonstrating new enhanced oil recovery technologies that can help unlock the potential of some of America’s depleted oil fields and find ways to put carbon pollution to use in tapping those resources in a safe and responsible way."

Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) primarily uses steam, chemical or carbon dioxide injection to increase production of additional, hard-to-recover barrels of oil that remain in older fields following conventional production operations. Thanks in part to innovations pioneered by the DOE Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), the United States is a world leader in EOR recovery, which accounts for about 13 percent of total U.S. annual oil production.

A project supported by the Energy Department, and operated by Rex Energy Corp., at the Lawrence oil field in Lawrence County, Illinois, has been able to increase production from 16 barrels to 65 – 75 barrels of oil per day using an innovative alkaline surfactant polymer (ASP) flooding technique.

ASP flooding increased the overall oil cut in the 15-acre project area from 1 percent to 12 percent. Based on this potential, Rex Energy is expanding testing to a 58 acre portion of the field. In 2013, Rex Energy will continue the project, investing in ASP flooding technology at a 351-acre parcel immediately south of the current operations. Continued success and private investment in these ASP pilots may renew the life of the entire Lawrence field.

Rex Energy is conducting its ASP field-testing as part of a larger project underway at the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) supported by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and the Prairie Research Institute located at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The ISGS is characterizing its state’s Pennsylvanian-age Bridgeport sandstone and Mississippian-age Cypress sandstone reservoirs, which underlie the Lawrence field, to define remaining oil reserves and project how additional oil could be recovered from them economically.

The formations are two of Illinois’ most prolific, but they are also structurally complex. The ISGS hopes that ASP flooding proves successful in realizing the additional 130 million barrels of oil it has estimated to be technically recoverable from Lawrence. If successful in the Lawrence field, the technology could be used in similar fields throughout the United States, increasing domestic oil production and realizing the associated benefits of job creation and expanded economic activity.

Oil production began at the Lawrence field in 1906, with various operators recovering more than 410 million barrels since that time through primary and secondary recovery techniques. However, like other mature fields in the United States, Lawrence is approaching its limit of economically recoverable crude despite the fact that a significant amount of oil remains in its formations.

- End of Techline

For more information, contact:

  • DOE Office of Public Affairs, 202-586-4940