Chemical Flooding Technology Goes Mobile Enhanced Recovery Technique is Cost Effective and Green

NORMAN, Okla. – With more than 80 percent of Oklahoma’s oil still embedded in rock formations, oil producers are continually searching for cost-effective ways to capitalize on the wealth of resources trapped beneath our feet. Layline Petroleum, based in Houston, Texas, recently solidified their commitment to enhanced oil recovery by donating a mobile laboratory – valued at more than $1 million – to The University of Oklahoma’s Institute for Applied Surfactant Research. The mobile laboratory supports the IASR’s chemical flooding research, which allows small oil producers to safely and economically recover oil from previously produced reservoirs.

“After selling some of our assets last year, I looked for the best opportunity for our mobile laboratory to continue our efforts to advance and improve oil recovery research,” said Chris Lewis, president of Layline Petroleum. Lewis said he knew Jeff Harwell, OU chemical engineering researcher, was making great strides in chemical flooding, so he reached out to him. “I knew I had found a place where the mobile laboratory would make an impact.”

“The mobile laboratory will expedite and cut the cost of our chemical flooding field research in half,” said Harwell. “Layline Petroleum’s donation simplifies the logistics to inject the wells, collect samples and test them in the field, saving us time, money and personnel.”

The mobile laboratory assists Harwell and his IASR team members—Bruce Roberts and Ben Shiau— in formulating and testing a chemical flooding technique that helps recover 90 percent of the oil still trapped in rock formations after the first two phases of oil recovery.

 “We use non-toxic, biodegradable surfactants that cleanse the oil from the rocks in a similar way that laundry detergent removes residue from your clothes,” said Harwell. “This method not only increases the efficiency of oil recovery in existing wells, but also has minimal impact on the environment.”

Traditional chemical flooding techniques require large water treatment and chemical mixing plants. The millions of dollars of up-front investment make traditional techniques unattractive to the smaller companies that make up the majority of producers in Oklahoma. The OU team is focused on making cost-effective solutions accessible to small producers.

“Our approach to chemical flooding is profitable with oil trading as low as $40 per barrel,” said Harwell. “We make existing reservoirs productive again without the expense of creating a fresh water supply or the risk associated with fracking. It gives Oklahoma producers a cost-efficient advantage in oil recovery, helping them remain competitive in a volatile oil market and against national and international companies in their own backyard.”

In conjunction with Mid-Con Energy of Tulsa, the IASR team has successfully mobilized up to 90 percent of the residual oil in multiple single-well tests. The team’s technology has been commercialized through a startup company, Chemical Flooding Technology (