This paper seeks answers, through a ‘philosophical’ approach, to the questions of whether enhanced oil recovery projects are purely driven by economic restrictions (i.e. oil prices) or if there are still technical issues to be considered, making companies refrain from enhanced oil recovery (EOR) applications. Another way of approaching these questions is to ask why some EOR projects are successful and long-lasting regardless of substantial fluctuations in oil prices. To find solid answers to these two, by ‘philosophical’ reasoning, further questions were raised including: (1) has sufficient attention been given to the ‘cheapest’ EOR methods such as air and microbial injection, (2) why are we afraid of the most expensive miscible processes that yield high recoveries in the long run, or (3) why is the incubation period (research to field) of EOR projects so lengthy? After a detailed analysis using sustainable EOR example cases and identifying the myths and facts about EOR, both answers to these questions and supportive data were sought.
Premises were listed as outcomes to be considered in the decision making and development of EOR projects. Examples of said considerations include: (1) Every EOR process is case-specific and analogies are difficult to make, hence we still need serious efforts for project design and research for specific processes and technologies, (2) discontinuity in fundamental and case-specific research has been one of the essential reasons preventing the continuity of the projects rather than drops in oil prices, and (3) any EOR project can be made economical, if technical success is proven, through proper optimization methods and continuous project monitoring whilst considering the minimal profit that the company can tolerate.
Finally, through the ‘philosophical’ reasoning approach and using worldwide successful EOR cases, the following three parameters were found to be the most important factors in running successful EOR applications, regardless of oil prices and risky investment costs, to extend the life span of the reservoir and warrant both short and long-term profit: (1) Proper technical design and implementation of the selected EOR method through continuous monitoring and re-engineering the project (how to apply more than what to apply), (2) good reservoir characterization and geological descriptions and their effect on the mechanics of the EOR process, and (3) paying attention to experience and expertise (human factor).
It is believed that the systematic analysis and philosophical approach followed in this paper and the outcome will provide proper guidance to EOR projects for upcoming decades.