INTERVIEW-Chevron steams ahead on Middle East enhanced oil recovery
* Recovery rate could top 50 pct at Wafra, vs 5-10 pct normally
* Would be tough to add sixth rig in Gulf of Mexico
* Logistics key to cost overruns at Gorgon in Australia
NEW YORK, March 12 (Reuters) - Chevron Corp, 80 years after its predecessor went to the Middle East to launch what would become Saudi Aramco, is now bringing technology from California to the region to squeeze more oil out of ageing fields. The Wafra Steamflood project, located in the partitioned zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, is expected ultimately to produce 80,000 barrels per day in its first phase, with early engineering work due to start next year, Chevron said on Tuesday. George Kirkland, head of Chevron's production and exploration division, said the rate of oil recovery could increase to more than half of the reservoir, from just 5 percent to 10 percent using conventional drilling and pumping. At the high end, Chevron had seen a recovery rate of 65 percent at its Kern River project in California. "We believe you can get recoveries north of 70 percent," Kirkland said in an interview with Reuters. A key difference at Wafra is that it will be in carbonate rock, instead of the sandstone reservoirs Chevron steamflooded in its home state and in Indonesia, Kirkland said. He did not know of any other steamflood projects in carbonate. "It's a little bit like a science project - we're trying to model it," he said of why the project started as a pilot. "We want to get the answer sooner. We don't want to wait five years to get the steam breakthrough. We want to try to speed that up." Steamflooding involves injecting steam into a well to free up heavy crude oil.
Chevron - formerly Standard Oil of California - has a long history in the Middle East. Aramco, now the world's largest oil company, was founded as the California Arabian Standard Oil Company in 1933 before taking on its new name a decade later. Kirkland was speaking after Chevron's annual meeting with analysts in New York, where it said it was on track to hit a target of 3.3 million barrels per day by 2017. That will include new production from Chevron assets in the Permian basin in west Texas and New Mexico, where new shale technology has made it hot property again - leaving Chevron pleased to have never pulled out. "It would have been very easy for people to sell and go away - then it'd be very expensive to buy it back. That's actually a hard thing to do," he said. Offshore, in the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron is now operating five rigs as it races ahead with three massive new developments there at Jack/St Malo, Big Foot and Tubular Bells - $14 billion worth of projects all due to start up next year. "It's nice having really big projects bringing lots of barrels. A lot of money spent," he said. Adding a sixth rig in the Gulf would be a challenge, Kirkland said, because of the problem of finding experienced people to manage it, so the Moccasin well there would have to wait. Next year will also see the start-up of the Chevron-operated, $52 billion, Gorgon liquefied natural gas facility. The cost estimate recently went up by $15 billion, mostly due to foreign-exchange movements, but also because of bad weather and the challenges of delivering equipment to the remote location off the coast of Western Australia. "We'll put more emphasis on logistics on the next project. We learned something on that," Kirkland said.
(Reporting by Braden Reddall; Editing by Dale Hudson)