A petroleum reservoir or oil and gas reservoir is a subsurface pool of hydrocarbon
s contained in porous
or fractured rock formation
s. Petroleum reservoirs are broadly classified as ''conventional'' and ''unconventional
'' reservoirs. In conventional reservoirs, the naturally occurring hydrocarbons, such as crude oil
or natural gas
, are trapped by overlying rock formations with lower permeability
, while in unconventional reservoirs, the rocks have high porosity
and low permeability, which keeps the hydrocarbons trapped in place, therefore not requiring a cap rock
. Reservoirs are found using hydrocarbon exploration
An oil field is a pool of oil under the surface of the earth, trapped in a sealed hollow of impermeable rock. As actually used in practice, the term implies the possibility of sufficient economic benefit worthy of commercial attention. Secondarily, the area on the surface above where oil lies trapped underground, is also called an oil field.
Because oil reservoir
s typically extend over a large area, possibly several hundred km across, full exploitation entails multiple wells scattered across the area. In addition, there may be exploratory wells probing the edges, pipelines to transport
the oil elsewhere, and support facilities.
Because an oil field may be remote from civilization
, establishing a field is often an extremely complicated exercise in logistics
. This goes beyond requirements for drilling
, to include associated infrastructure. For instance, workers require housing to allow them to work onsite for months or years. In turn, housing
and equipment require electricity
and water. In cold regions, pipelines may need to be heated. Also, excess natural gas
may be burned off
if there is no way to make use of it—which requires a furnace, chimney
and pipes to carry it from the well to the furnace.
Thus, the typical oil field resembles a small, self-contained town in the midst of a landscape dotted with drilling rig
s or the pump jacks, which are known as "nodding donkey
s" because of their bobbing arm. Several companies, such as Hill International
, Weatherford International
, Schlumberger Limited
, Baker Hughes
, have organizations that specialize in the large-scale construction of the infrastructure
and providing specialized services required to operate a field profitably.
More than 40,000 oil fields are scattered around the globe, on land and offshore. The largest are the Ghawar Field
in Saudi Arabia
and the Burgan Field
, with more than 60 billion barrels
estimated in each. Most oil fields are much smaller. According to the US Department of Energy (Energy Information Administration), as of 2003 the US alone had over 30,000 oil fields.
In the modern age, the location of oil fields with proven oil reserves
is a key underlying factor in many geopolitical
The term "oilfield" is also used as a shorthand to refer to the entire petroleum industry
. However, it is more accurate to divide the oil industry into three sectors: upstream (crude production from wells and separation of water from oil), midstream
(pipeline and tanker transport of crude) and downstream (refining, marketing of refined products and transportation to Oil stations).
originates by the same geological thermal cracking
process that converts kerogen
. As a consequence, oil and natural gas are often found together. In common usage, deposits rich in oil are known as oil field
s, and deposits rich in natural gas are called natural gas fields.
In general, organic sediments buried in depths of 1,000 m to 6,000 m (at temperatures of 60 °C
to 150 °C) generate oil, while sediments buried deeper and at higher temperatures generate natural gas instead. The deeper the source, the "drier" the gas (that is, the smaller the proportion of condensate
s in the gas). Because both oil and natural gas are lighter than water, they tend to rise from their sources until they either seep
to the surface or are trapped by a non-permeable stratigraphic trap. They can be extracted from the trap by drilling.
The largest natural gas field is South Pars/Asalouyeh
gas field, which is shared between Iran
. The second largest natural gas field is the Urengoy gas field
, and the third largest is the Yamburg gas field
, both in Russia
Like oil, natural gas is often found underwater in offshore gas fields such as the North Sea
, Corrib Gas Field
, and near Sable Island
. The technology to extract and transport offshore natural gas is different from land-based fields. It uses a few, very large offshore drilling
rigs, due to the cost and logistical difficulties in working over water.
Rising gas prices in the early 21st century encouraged drillers to revisit fields that previously were not considered economically viable. For example, in 2008, McMoran Exploration
passed a drilling depth of over 32,000 feet (9754 m) (the deepest test well in the history of gas production) at the Blackbeard site in the Gulf of Mexico. Exxon Mobil
's drill rig there had reached 30,000 feet by 2006, without finding gas, before it abandoned the site.
is found in all oil reservoirs formed in the Earth's crust
from the remains of once-living things. Evidence indicates that millions of years of heat and pressure
changed the remains of microscopic plant
into oil and natural gas
Roy Nurmi, an interpretation adviser for Schlumberger
oil field services company, described the process as follows:
Plankton and algae, proteins and the life that's floating in the sea, as it dies, falls to the bottom, and these organisms are going to be the source of our oil and gas. When they're buried with the accumulating sediment and reach an adequate temperature, something above 50 to 70 °C they start to cook. This transformation, this change, changes them into the liquid hydrocarbons that move and migrate, will become our oil and gas reservoir.
In addition to the aquatic
environment, which is usually a sea but might also be a river
, coral reef
, or algal mat
, the formation of an oil or gas reservoir also requires a sedimentary basin
that passes through four steps:
* Deep burial under sand and mud.
* Pressure cooking.
* Hydrocarbon migration from the source to the reservoir rock
* Trapping by impermeable rock.
Timing is also an important consideration; it is suggested that the Ohio River Valley
could have had as much oil as the Middle East
at one time, but that it escaped due to a lack of traps.
The North Sea
, on the other hand, endured millions of years of sea level changes that successfully resulted in the formation of more than 150 oilfield
Although the process is generally the same, various environmental factors lead to the creation of a wide variety of reservoirs. Reservoirs exist anywhere from the land surface to below the surface and are a variety of shapes, sizes, and ages.
In recent years, igneous reservoirs have become an important new field of oil exploration, especially in trachyte
formations. These two types of reservoirs differ in oil content and physical properties like fracture
connectivity, pore connectivity, and rock porosity
forms when the buoyancy
forces driving the upward migration of hydrocarbons
through a permeable
rock cannot overcome the capillary forces
of a sealing medium. The timing of trap formation relative to that of petroleum generation and migration is crucial to ensuring a reservoir can form.
broadly classify traps into three categories that are based on their geological characteristics: the structural trap
, the stratigraphic trap and the far less common hydrodynamic trap. The trapping mechanisms for many petroleum reservoirs have characteristics from several categories and can be known as a combination trap.
Traps are described as structural
traps (in deformed strata such as folds and faults) or stratigraphic
traps (in areas where rock types change, such as unconformities, pinch-outs and reefs). A trap is an essential component of a petroleum system.
Structural traps are formed as a result of changes in the structure of the subsurface due to processes such as folding and faulting, leading to the formation of domes
s, and folds
. Examples of this kind of trap are an anticline trap
, a fault trap
and a salt dome trap
. (see salt dome
They are more easily delineated and more prospective than their stratigraphic counterparts, with the majority of the world's petroleum reserves being found in structural traps.
File:Structural Trap (Anticlinal).svg|Structural trap within an Anticline
File:Structural Trap Fault.svg|Structural trap along a fault plane
File:StratigraphicTrap5.png|Structural-stratigraphic trap in a tilted block draped by mudstones
traps are formed as a result of lateral and vertical variations in the thickness, texture, porosity
, or lithology
of the reservoir rock. Examples of this type of trap are an unconformity trap
, a lens trap
and a reef trap
File:StratigraphicTrap4.png|Stratigraphic trap under an unconformity
File:StratigraphicTrap2.png|Stratigraphic trap in a fossilised coral reef (yellow) sealed by mudstones (green)
File:StratigraphicTrap3-03.png|Stratigraphic trap around an evaporite (pink) salt dome
Hydrodynamic traps are a far less common type of trap. They are caused by the differences in water pressure, that are associated with water flow, creating a tilt of the hydrocarbon-water contact.
Seal/ cap rock
The seal is a fundamental part of the trap that prevents hydrocarbons from further upward migration.
A capillary seal is formed when the capillary pressure
across the pore throats is greater than or equal to the buoyancy pressure of the migrating hydrocarbons. They do not allow fluids to migrate across them until their integrity is disrupted, causing them to leak. There are two types of capillary seal whose classifications are based on the preferential mechanism of leaking: the hydraulic seal and the membrane seal.
The membrane seal will leak whenever the pressure differential across the seal exceeds the threshold displacement pressure, allowing fluids to migrate through the pore spaces in the seal. It will leak just enough to bring the pressure differential below that of the displacement pressure and will reseal.
The hydraulic seal occurs in rocks that have a significantly higher displacement pressure such that the pressure required for tension fracturing is actually lower than the pressure required for fluid displacement – for example, in evaporites or very tight shales. The rock will fracture
when the pore pressure is greater than both its minimum stress and its tensile strength then reseal when the pressure reduces and the fractures close.
After the discovery of a reservoir, a petroleum engineer will seek to build a better picture of the accumulation. In a simple textbook example of a uniform reservoir, the first stage is to conduct a seismic survey to determine the possible size of the trap. Appraisal wells can be used to determine the location of oil–water contact and with it the height of the oil bearing sands. Often coupled with seismic data, it is possible to estimate the volume of an oil-bearing reservoir.
The next step is to use information from appraisal wells to estimate the porosity of the rock. The porosity, or the percentage of the total volume that contains fluids rather than solid rock, is 20–35% or less. It can give information on the actual capacity. Laboratory testing can determine the characteristics of the reservoir fluids, particularly the expansion factor of the oil, or how much the oil expands when brought from the high pressure and high temperature of the reservoir to a "stock tank" at the surface.
With such information, it is possible to estimate how many "stock tank" barrel
s of oil are located in the reservoir. Such oil is called the stock tank oil initially in place (STOIIP)
. As a result of studying factors such as the permeability of the rock (how easily fluids can flow through the rock) and possible drive mechanisms, it is possible to estimate the recovery factor, or what proportion of oil in place can be reasonably expected to be produced. The recovery factor is commonly 30–35%, giving a value for the recoverable resources.
The difficulty is that reservoirs are not uniform. They have variable porosities and permeabilities and may be compartmentalised, with fractures and faults breaking them up and complicating fluid flow. For this reason, computer modeling
of economically viable reservoirs is often carried out. Geologist
s, and reservoir engineers
work together to build a model that allows simulation
of the flow of fluids in the reservoir, leading to an improved estimate of the recoverable resources.
Reserves are only the part of those recoverable resources that will be developed through identified and approved development projects. Because the evaluation of "Reserves" has a direct impact on the company or the asset value, it usually follows a strict set of rules or guidelines (even though loopholes are commonly used by companies to inflate their own share price). The most common guidelines are the SPE PRMS guidelines, the SEC Rules, or the COGE Handbook. Government may also have their own systems, making it more complicated for investors to compare one company with another.
To obtain the contents of the oil reservoir, it is usually necessary to drill
into the Earth's crust, although surface oil seeps exist in some parts of the world, such as the La Brea tar pits
and numerous seeps in Trinidad
A virgin reservoir may be under sufficient pressure to push hydrocarbons to the surface. As the fluids are produced, the pressure will often decline, and production will falter. The reservoir may respond to the withdrawal of fluid in a way that tends to maintain the pressure. Artificial drive methods may be necessary.
This mechanism (also known as depletion drive) depends on the associated gas of the oil. The virgin reservoir may be entirely semi-liquid but will be expected to have gaseous hydrocarbons in solution due to the pressure. As the reservoir depletes, the pressure falls below the bubble point
and the gas comes out of solution to form a gas cap at the top. This gas cap pushes down on the liquid helping to maintain pressure.
This occurs when the natural gas is in a cap below the oil. When the well is drilled the lowered pressure above means that the oil expands. As the pressure is reduced it reaches bubble point and subsequently the gas bubbles drive the oil to the surface. The bubbles then reach critical saturation and flow together as a single gas phase. Beyond this point and below this pressure the gas phase flows out more rapidly than the oil because of its lowered viscosity. More free gas is produced and eventually the energy source is depleted. In some cases depending on the geology the gas may migrate to the top of the oil and form a secondary gas cap.
Some energy may be supplied by water, gas in water, or compressed rock. These are usually minor contributions with respect to hydrocarbon expansion.
By properly managing the production rates, greater benefits can be had from solution-gas drives. Secondary recovery involves the injection of gas or water to maintain reservoir pressure. The gas/oil ratio and the oil production rate are stable until the reservoir pressure drops below the bubble point when critical gas saturation is reached. When the gas is exhausted, the gas/oil ratio and the oil rate drops, the reservoir pressure has been reduced, and the reservoir energy exhausted.
Gas cap drive
In reservoirs already having a gas cap (the virgin pressure is already below bubble point), the gas cap expands with the depletion of the reservoir, pushing down on the liquid sections applying extra pressure.
This is present in the reservoir if there is more gas than can be dissolved in the reservoir. The gas will often migrate to the crest of the structure. It is compressed on top of the oil reserve, as the oil is produced the cap helps to push the oil out. Over time the gas cap moves down and infiltrates the oil and eventually the well will begin to produce more and more gas until it produces only gas. It is best to manage the gas cap effectively, that is, placing the oil wells such that the gas cap will not reach them until the maximum amount of oil is produced. Also a high production rate may cause the gas to migrate downward into the production interval. In this case, over time, the reservoir pressure depletion is not as steep as in the case of solution-based gas drive. In this case, the oil rate will not decline as steeply but will depend also on the placement of the well with respect to the gas cap.
As with other drive mechanisms, water or gas injection can be used to maintain reservoir pressure. When a gas cap is coupled with water influx the recovery mechanism can be highly efficient.
Aquifer (water) drive
Water (usually salty) may be present below the hydrocarbons. Water, as with all liquids, is compressible to a small degree. As the hydrocarbons are depleted, the reduction in pressure in the reservoir allows the water to expand slightly. Although this unit expansion is minute, if the aquifer is large enough this will translate into a large increase in volume, which will push up on the hydrocarbons, maintaining pressure.
With a water-drive reservoir, the decline in reservoir pressure is very slight; in some cases, the reservoir pressure may remain unchanged. The gas/oil ratio also remains stable. The oil rate will remain fairly stable until the water reaches the well. In time, the water cut will increase and the well will be watered out.Waterdrive
at Schlumberger Oilfield Glossary
The water may be present in an aquifer (but rarely one replenished with surface water). This water gradually replaces the volume of oil and gas that is produced out of the well, given that the production rate is equivalent to the aquifer activity. That is, the aquifer is being replenished from some natural water influx. If the water begins to be produced along with the oil, the recovery rate may become uneconomical owing to the higher lifting and water disposal costs.
Water and gas injection
If the natural drives are insufficient, as they very often are, then the pressure can be artificially maintained by injecting water into the aquifer or gas into the gas cap.
The force of gravity will cause the oil to move downward of the gas and upward of the water. If vertical permeability exists then recovery rates may be even better.
Gas and gas condensate reservoirs
These occur if the reservoir conditions allow the hydrocarbons to exist as a gas. Retrieval is a matter of gas expansion. Recovery from a closed reservoir (i.e., no water drive) is very good, especially if bottom hole pressure is reduced to a minimum (usually done with compressors at the wellhead). Any produced liquids are light coloured to colourless, with a gravity higher than 45 API. Gas cycling is the process where dry gas is injected and produced along with condensed liquid.
*List of acronyms in oil and gas exploration and production
*List of natural gas fields
*List of oil fields
*List of oilfield service companies
*North Sea Oil
*Stranded gas reserve
*Underground hydrogen storage