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KFU and Tatneft Exploit Shale Oil Reserves

SAU “EcoOil” researchers will estimate the maturity of Domanic formations in Tatarstan and create a map of the most promising fields.

The terms “shale oil” and “shale oil revolution” are familiar to almost every Russian. In most cases they link it to one country only – the USA. However, few people know that its extraction projects existed in Russia long before the American phenomenon and they are still around. The only difference is that the Americans took it to the industry and we didn’t. One can argue about the cause-and-affect links and admire our opponents’ agility, but if we look closely into the matter we find out that for them the developing of shale sediments was a desperate measure, meanwhile for Russia it is one of the promising fields which deals with replacement of conventional oil’s dwindling reserves.

Nevertheless, the notorious Western “revolution” encouraged a lot of Russian projects on finding and developing shale oil as well as unconventional hydrocarbons in general. Scientists from all over the country joined the mission. Kazan federal university, being the leading higher education institution of one of the petroleum regions, didn’t stand on the sidelines. Today in its structure KFU has a whole strategic academic unit “EcoOil”. The SAU’s goals are finding and exploring alternative energy sources, increasing the efficiency of conventional oil extraction and also developing new technologies of extracting and refining “scavenger” oil. The latter refers not only to crude bitumen but to light crude in reservoirs of low permeability (this kind of crude is usually what they call shale oil).

The head of SAU “EcoOil” Mikhail Varfolomeev told us: “A lot of our researches, especially those related to recovery of unconventional hydrocarbons, are being carried out in close collaboration with companies. Almost all of major Russian oil-and-gas companies in recent years have expressed their interest in this issue, so we don’t lack projects in this field. Currently we are working with Rosneft, RITEK, Zarubezhneft. We have a huge project with Tatneft on developing superviscous oil in Ashalchinsk oil field. We have equal interests in this research. The company provided us with necessary sites to test our latest developments and that is a great virtue”.

Apart from Ashalchinsk oil field, the researchers of SAU “EcoOil” and PJSC “Tatneft” are currently involved in grand-scale exploration of shale oil. It includes estimation of resource portfolio and the maturity of Domanic formations in Tatarstan.

Head of KFU IGPT’s research laboratory “In-Situ Oil Combustion”Aleksey Vakhin said: “A couple of years ago the first Tatarstan president ordered a research of Domanic formation– one of the largest Russian shale formations. Tatneft undertook this mission and immediately involved several Kazan universities in it. Sadly, for a variety of reasons, the project failed to gain essential support. For some time our (KFU scientists’ – author’s note) research was driven solely by our own enthusiasm. Initially we were supposed to estimate the level of organic maturation in several formation samples from different places and to choose methods of testing bitumoid and kerogen”.

It’s worth mentioning that Domanic formation, situated along Ural mountain range from Kara Sea to the Caspian, is the second largest potential reservoir of shale oil after Bazhenov formation in Western Siberia. The Domanic’s layer thickness is bigger than its counterpart’s (15-70 meters against 10-32), it’s less explored and thus less developed. A number of companies such as Gazprom Neft, Rosneft and Lukoil have already started shale oil extraction in Western Siberia. Ultimately it’s due to the formation maturity which is in direct relation with oil recovery factor. It also explains Tatneft’s initial stand on the matter – the company was skeptical of recovering shale oil in Eastern Tatarstan. Today the funding of KFU joint project has been increased by a decade – from 700 thousands to 8 millions of rubles, and the list of goals has seemingly extended.

Aleksey Vakhin highlighted some of the project’s details: “We have showed various techniques of examining kerogen formations and ways to state maturity of organic matter. The company was particularly interested in laboratory modeling of man-caused maturity of organic matter. Findings of this experiment can serve as the basis for technologies of exploiting such formations, for example, in-situ retorting – a process of generating synthetic crude oil as a result of thermal treatment of kerogen”.

The obtained results led to the second, even more large-scale stage. Now SAU “EcoOil” researchers are set to estimate the potential amount of shale oil in Eastern Tatarstan and study geochemical and geomechanic properties of the Domanic productive stratum. Also a tremendous job will be done to pitch the best places for industrial tests and to develop methods of searching unconventional hard-to-recover reserves.

Head of research laboratory “In-Situ Oil Combustion” noted: “If you look at the map, Bazhenov and Domanic formations are a colossal space full of shale sediments with more or less equal distribution of organic matter. Some places it’s more mature, some places it’s less. And our aim is to find out where well boring will be profitable. In this sense Bazhenov formation is almost thoroughly studied. The Domanic is different. There was no complex mapping, even in Tatarstan. And we have to fix it. It includes determining locations best conditioned for extracting shale oil – “sweet spots”, as they call them in the West”.

SAU “EcoOil” scientists also noted that their work is not nearly done. But the provisional results clearly indicate that Tatarstan has made its first step toward extracting shale oil.