Thermal EOR has long been considered the sole Enhanced Oil Recovery method for heavy oil but this is no longer the case; several heavy oil polymer floods have proven successful and more are in the planning stages. In the US alone several billion barrels of oil could be targeted; in the rest of the world and in Latin America in particular the potential target is also probably large but mostly unknown at this point. Even though polymer flooding recovery is usually lower than with thermal methods, it is less capital intensive and may be the only economical solution for instance in thin reservoirs.
As any EOR project, polymer flooding of heavy oil is done in stages – screening, feasibility study, pilot preparation, pilot execution and eventually full field deployment. Each of these stages requires care and attention to details and many pitfalls need to be avoided in order to reach the final stage of full deployment.
This paper intends to provide guidelines on the whole process, based on practical experience and illustrated with actual field cases. This should allow operators to benefit from a better understanding of the challenges and potential of polymer flooding of heavy oil and open the door for more projects.