Turning Oil You Can’t Recover into Natural Gas You Can 

Research & Development

“We’re speeding up the process that has occurred naturally and that resulted in the heavy oils of western Canada being formed in the first place.” - David Rafter, Profero Energy

“We’re speeding up the process that has occurred naturally and that resulted in the heavy oils of western Canada being formed in the first place.”

There are about six trillion barrels of oil left behind in reservoirs all over the world because it would cost too much to try to get it out. Now, scientists in Calgary and England have come up with a way to turn that oil into natural gas that can be recovered from reservoirs.

 Biogenic methane producing microbes collected from an oil reservoir in North Central Alberta. Biogenic methane producing microbes collected
from an oil reservoir in North Central Alberta.

Over tens of millions of years, naturally occurring microbes in oil will convert it into natural gas. In the lab, the scientists have discovered a way to make that happen over months, not millennia. The technology, patented by Profero Energy, will soon be tested in the field with an oil and gas company. If all goes well, it could be working on heavy oil reservoirs within a few years.

“We’re speeding up the process that has occurred naturally and that resulted in the heavy oils of western Canada being formed in the first place,” says David Rafter, the CEO of Profero Energy. “These reservoirs have been infected and these bugs use oil as their food source,” he says. As part of the metabolic process in consuming the oil, the microbes produce natural gas.

To speed up the natural process, the microbes are fed nutrients. “We’ve put these bugs on a proper diet,” says Rafter. “The microbes have had a continuous food source but they haven’t had their vegetables, their fruits, their vitamins and minerals – all the aspects that go into a proper balanced diet,” he explains. With better nutrition, the microbes thrive, multiply and digest more oil, turning it into natural gas along the way.

He says so far, every reservoir they’ve tested in Alberta contains the microbes. “You’re going to get more out of your reservoir,” says Rafter. “If your recovery is 20 per cent, we think we can double that overall recovery.”

Not only will the technology open up previously unrecoverable energy, there’s a green element as well. “You’re going to get a cleaner fuel coming out of the ground,” says Rafter. “This can help provide a cleaner source of fuel from assets that you can not get anything more out of.” And, it’s a natural process. The microbes aren’t introduced into the reservoir, they’re already there.

The science behind the technology was developed by researchers from the University of Calgary and the University of Newcastle. University Technologies International, the technology transfer, commercialization, and incubation centre for the University of Calgary, worked with the researchers to create Profero Energy and help bring this technology to market.

“It’s still early days,” says Rafter. “But we are very encouraged by the results that we’ve seen.”

Profero Energy Inc. is a Calgary-based oil and gas technology company founded in 2007. The research on this technology began in approximately 2002.

Related Links

University of Calgary: Heavy oil discovery could revolutionize oil sands production.

National Defence and the Canadian Forces: Microbes eat oil and grease.