Squeezing the Barrel

This project was awarded NERC oil and gas catalyst funding to investigate the potential of ageing oilfields to operate as geothermal wells. The oil and gas industry routinely drills wells of depth and hence temperature suitable for geothermal heat extraction and in some instances electricity generation. The opportunity to transfer the knowledge gained through this NERC supported geothermal research to the oil industry has now arrived with many opportunities for symbiosis.

Increasing interest in exploring the geothermal potential of oilfield operations has been demonstrated by BP, who are currently funding a PhD at Durham to investigate the UK's low enthalpy geothermal resource by focussing on deep sedimentary aquifers and it is expected that other producers will follow suit.

The objectives of this are twofold:

  • to defer the abandonment of ageing oilfields, increase their recovery factors and add a sizable portion of low carbon energy to the UK's portfolio, so enabling a reduced dependence on imported fossil fuels
  • to facilitate diversification of ageing and spent oilfields by exploiting the energy contained within co-produced waters, which could ultimately reduce future demands for gas or electricity for heat generation

The research proposal will consider existing, possible and potential geothermal opportunities. The Southampton well provides an existing, proven geothermal system that has been supplying a district wide heating scheme for around 25 years. A possible opportunity is provided by the Wytch Farm oilfield in Dorset where the waste heat available from co-produced water is at least 20 time greater than that available from the geothermal well at Southampton. Potential opportunities for new geothermal systems will be derived following an inspection of onshore exploration well data from an estimated 1500 deep wells. A subset of these will be examined to produce a map that suggests areas of geothermal potential where wells are present.


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