Chevron Corp. is considering using solar energy to produce the steam needed to pump heavy crude from an oilfield straddling Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Chevron may start a pilot solar plant at the end of 2013, Hashim al-Rifaai, chairman and managing director of Kuwait Gulf Oil Co., told reporters in Abu Dhabi today. Energy from the sun would heat water to create steam, which would then be injected underground to make the heavy oil liquid enough to flow, al-Rifaai said.
Solar power would be used in conjunction with burning natural gas for the so-called steam-flood development at the Wafra field in the Neutral Zone, which Saudi Arabia and Kuwait share. Kuwait Gulf is responsible for managing Kuwait’s share, while Chevron operates Saudi Arabia’s interest.
Chevron is assessing the use of solar energy as it seeks to free up much-needed natural gas. Kuwait buys the fuel in liquid form at international prices while Saudi Arabia burns crude in its power stations because they don’t have sufficient local supply of gas to generate electricity.
A final investment decision for steam injection in the Wafra field will be made next year, with the aim of producing as much as 600,000 barrels a day of heavy oil from 2017. Saudi Arabia, the largest member in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, says it’s pumping more than 10 million barrels of oil, the highest in more than three decades. Kuwait’s output was 2.7 million barrels last month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Every barrel of oil would need about 5 barrels of steam, according to Yasser Dib, regional vice president at BrightSource Energy Inc. The solar-thermal technology company supplied the plant, which Chevron has been using since October to extract crude at its Coalinga field in southern California. The system uses mirrors to focus sunlight on a boiler to produce steam.
The neutral zone is producing 220,000 barrels a day onshore and 320,000 barrels offshore, al-Rifaai said. While the offshore target is 350,000 barrels, onshore output is dropping. Developing the heavy oil would help maintain total output and the crude would be exported to Asia, upgraded or used in a planned refinery in Kuwait, he said.