SUN SAVES THE DAY

Oman 2016 | ENERGY | FOCUS: ENHANCED OIL RECOVERY

As one of the smaller producers of oil in the GCC, Oman has to do everything it can to ensure the best and most efficient production. Solar-powered enhanced oil recovery (EOR) might be just what is needed.

EOR has become an increasingly important technology on a global scale over the past year. This is especially the case for countries that possess “heavy” oil. Oman is one of those countries. However, the technology has its drawbacks. It requires significant amounts of energy and, until recently, has been supplied by gas, which is a highly valuable resource. However, a deal signed in July 2015 between Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) and GlassPoint Solar has provided a renewable energy solution to this. It is a major step for the oil and gas sector, not only in maximizing production, but also in terms of preserving gas and increasing the Sultanate's push toward renewable energy.

GlassPoint Solar is an American company, with expertise in the manufacturing, installation, and operating of solar powered stream generators specifically for the oil and gas industry. With successful projects in Oman and California, the company's unique technologies have begun to be recognized especially in the wake of the need for innovative production in the oil and gas sector. The deal with PDO, the Sultanate's premier oil producer, will be to build one of the largest solar plants in the world. The 1,021 MW solar facility, to be called Miraah (translated as “mirror” in Arabic), will also produce the highest solar energy output in the world. Based in the south of Oman, solar powered steam will be used to extract oil from the Amal Oilfield. Oman produces a lot of “heavy” oil. This has a higher density than light crude oil, meaning that it does not flow with so much ease. However, as it does not have as high viscosity as bitumen, commercial production is possible with EOR techniques. Steam is injected into reservoirs to heat the oil and reduce its viscosity, enabling it to be pumped to the production wells.

To pump steam deep underground is a highly complex process and usually requires a great deal of gas-powered energy. As gas is a precious resource that is needed in a number of different industries, GlassPoint and PDO's deal is fundamental as it reduces EOR's reliance on gas, and places it instead on solar energy. Rod McGregor, President & CEO of GlassPoint, discussed the importance of the company's technology with TBY: “Essentially 22% of Oman's gas is sent to the oil field, and most of it is used for oil recovery. This is the challenge that GlassPoint is helping to address. Our solar technology was designed specifically for oilfield application, and produces the steam needed to produce heavy oil.” The technology also allows for a reduction of gas of up to 80% according to Mr. McGregor.

This is critical not only for saving precious gas resources, but also to reduce carbon emissions. At its full completion, Miraah is said to be able to save 5.6 trillion BTU per year, while potentially also reducing up to 300,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually according to PDO's estimates. On top of that, it is also an example of the opportunities available in Oman for utilizing solar potential.

The sharp and sustained fall in oil prices has brought to the surface a number of issues that need to be tackled in Oman. EOR has increased the productivity and efficiency of oil production, and has kept the sector competitive. The fact that renewable energy is producing the power is additionally important, due to its positive environmental impact and reduction of gas usage.

Oman is not alone in facing a struggle due to the fact that their revenues are depleted, and also because they do not possess the wealth of resources of neighbors like Saudi Arabia. The largest producer of oil in the region has the luxury to increase production, while the Sultanate is not so fortunate.

From a regional perspective, Kuwait has also expressed an interest in GlassPoint, an indication of the increasing necessity of the technology. Within Oman, PDO's deal has demonstrated that the Sultanate's premier oil producer is prepared to embrace new, environmentally friendly, and efficient technologies. With renewable energy being utilized in other sectors such as desalination and electricity production, energy experts around the world should take note that the Sultanate of Oman is starting to open up to renewable energy and the possibilities that will arise as a result.