TOGY talks to
Capture carbon and benefit in TrinidadAugust 1, 2018
David Alexander, assistant professor in the petroleum engineering department at the University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT), talks to TOGY about the energy-related research the university is involved in, carbon production and the social benefits of carbon capture, and his department’s educational offering. UTT was established in 2004.
• On opportunities: “There are a lot of heavy oil deposits here. Papers published in the past indicated that 2 billion-8 billion barrels of heavy oil could exist. Trinidad has another economy sitting there and waiting to be tapped into.”
• On production issues: “The technology is better, yet we are producing less. That is strange. In spite of declining reserves, we should have been able to sustain our production better. We are recommending that we start looking at more EOR projects and at CO2 EOR.”
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What large-scale research projects is UTT working on in the energy industry?
We have partnered with the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries recently to do two major projects that will help the country.
The first we call carbon management. That project looked at how much carbon the industrial sector produces and what we can do with this instead of ventilating it into the atmosphere, so we can make it more economical and use it to revitalise our oil and gasfields. On June 22, 2018, we completed a 33-month carbon management project and presented it to the ministry, showing how much CO2 is available from the industrial sector for EOR. We also talked about the costs of trucking the CO2 or distributing it via pipeline. We had a model that showed, with different volumes of carbon, when it would be feasible, according to production values.
The second important project for Trinidad and Tobago – although we have a lot of conversations about deepwater drilling – is that there are a lot of heavy oil deposits here. Papers published in the past indicated that 2 billion-8 billion barrels of heavy oil could exist. Trinidad has another economy sitting there and waiting to be tapped into.
Trinidad and Tobago has heavy oil deposits in the billions of barrels, and we should be looking at how we can commercially explore these reserves. It will put us in a better place. For example, we are currently producing a little less than 70,000 bopd. We peaked in 1970 at 238,000 bopd. The technology is better, yet we are producing less. That is strange. In spite of declining reserves, we should have been able to sustain our production better. We are recommending that we start looking at more EOR projects and at CO2 EOR.
What areas hold the best potential for EOR projects with carbon dioxide injections?
We have actively screened a number of reservoirs that would be susceptible to CO2 EOR. Not all reservoirs are good candidates. In Trinidad’s deep south region, there are reservoirs that are really good candidates for EOR. We do not have to make deepwater drilling the only saviour.
It really depends on which projects you want to look at. You have to look at total cumulative oil that can be produced to decide if you want to run a pipeline, or if you want to do it by truck. Initially, we will have to do it by truck. You have to target a certain amount of fields to make it economically feasible. The pipeline is a good idea if a lot of the fields can come into production at the same time.
How can EOR with carbon dioxide be made more economically feasible?
The economic viability of projects such as these depends on a number of factors. If you capture the CO2 from ammonia plants and want to make good use of it, legislation has to change regarding how we manage carbon. If there is legislation that allows oil producers to get carbon at a cheaper price, then it would be feasible to run these types of projects.
What are the other benefits of carbon capture?
The thinking is that Trinidad and Tobago produces less than 1% of carbon dioxide in the global context. But we have led the way in industries globally – in LNG, methanol, etc.
Small, developing island states such as ours will be the first to be impacted by climate change. We should be able to develop technologies and demonstrate projects that the rest of the world can utilise to mitigate CO2 [emissions]. It could be a win-win for us when we sequester the carbon dioxide and use it to enhance oil production. I think we should do it.
We can also create more employment with it, especially at a challenging time when there is stiff competition for jobs.
Why would using carbon dioxide be a better option for EOR than other approaches?
CO2 acts as a solvent. At certain depths, steam does not work; you have too much heat loss. Carbon dioxide could perform better at deeper depths. The more miscible the project, the more oil you get out of the reservoir. Companies should consider carbon dioxide if they want to explore EOR.
The CO2 market price is an issue, but if you use WAG [water alternating gas] injection, you will use less CO2.
Is UTT working on any initiatives related to this with other entities?
A project was established in 2016 called CERM [Carbon Dioxide Enhanced Oil Recovery Road Map]. The stakeholders – UWI [University of the West Indies], UTT, NGC, Petrotrin and the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries – have steering committee members in the project. Ultimately, we want to establish how kick off a CO2 pilot project. The target is to have a proposal and decide in which field this project should take place by the end of 2018.
How are enrollment trends for UTT’s petroleum engineering programme?
UTT is the only university in this region that has undergraduate programmes in petroleum engineering. For petroleum engineering, we offer a diploma, a Bachelor of Applied Science, a Master of Engineering and a Master of Science. We also offer a Master of Science for reservoir engineering. In terms of energy education, we are seeing a lot of interest in our university.
Enrollment moves in a similar fashion to the cyclicality of the industry and price. When the price of oil is high, we have high enrollment, and when the price is down, enrollment decreases. We generally tell potential candidates that the best time to study is when the price is down because they will catch the up-cycle, but their perception is otherwise. They do not see the industry down the road.
Is UTT collaborating with other educational institutions to provide oil and gas programmes?
Currently, a lot of the new emerging oil and gas markets are coming to UTT to establish new programmes. In the past, we have had five international visits, including from the University of Guyana, the ambassador of Suriname, and delegations from Mozambique, Ghana and Nigeria. The University of Guyana has recently signed an MoU with UTT to establish programmes.
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